That felt like more than just a game slipping away. That felt like it could have been a season.
That felt like the Huskies went from wearing dancing shoes to a hospital gown in the span of 20 minutes.
Yes, after a 64-61 loss to Oregon, Washington’s NCAA tournament hopes are in serious and not-so-stable condition. That is its reality after blowing a 16-point second-half lead to the No. 8 team in the country.
Maybe the Huskies (12-7, 2-4 Pac-12) recover and dazzle in their final 12 conference games. But if they end up missing the Tourney in March, it will be Saturday’s loss that drives them to Madness.
“It’s hard anytime you lose. Especially when you feel like you had control of the game,” Huskies coach Mike Hopkins said. “This is now the third or fourth or fifth game where we’ve lost by three points, two points, one point. … You gotta be able to close that.”
This was the fifth time the Huskies have lost by six points or fewer over their past seven games. More discouragingly, they had double-digit leads in three of those before frittering them away.
Saturday’s squandering was the most egregious yet, as UW led by 16 with 10:22 remaining. Calling it the worst loss of the Mike Hopkins era wouldn’t be hyperbole.
This, after all, wasn’t Oregon drilling impossible shot after impossible shot to claw back into the game.
It was Washington coughing up the ball under full-court pressure, throwing errant post passes and missing key free throws.
The Huskies ended up with 13 turnovers — 10 of which came in the second half and overtime — making the absence of academically ineligible point guard Quade Green all the more conspicuous.
They ended up missing 10 foul shots — nine of which came in the second half and overtime — as one-and-ones became none-and-nones.
And they frequently lost sight of Pac-12 Player of the Year front-runner Payton Pritchard, who drilled six of his 12 three-point attempts — including the game-winner with 3.4 seconds left — en route to his team-high 22 points. As Hopkins said after the game: “He was the No. 1 thing on the scouting report, and we didn’t defend it too well.”
If the Huskies held their lead, they would have been a .500 team in the Pac-12 with wins over No. 16 Baylor and No. 8 Oregon. With victories of that caliber, they could have limped to 20 wins and almost guaranteed themselves a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Instead, they took about 1,000 watts off their résumé and inched closer to the bottom of the conference standings. Good won’t cut it for the rest of the season — only great will do.
The loss came as Husky freshman Isaiah Stewart had perhaps his most dominant game yet. The forward finished with 25 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks while drawing 13 fouls. But it was his shaking head — not the stat sheet — that told the story after the game.
“This game meant a lot to us,” Stewart said. “But it’s a long season ahead of us. We still have a lot of games. In order to be great, we have to have a short-term memory.”
There were a couple of rays that squeaked through the Huskies’ dark cloud of a day. One was freshman point guard Marcus Tsohonis, who scored 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Hopkins planned on redshirting Tsohonis before losing Green, and with his second double-digit scoring game in as many outings, Marcus appears to have at least partially filled the void.
But the Huskies are still in a lot of trouble.
With Stewart, Green, and potential NBA lottery pick Jaden McDaniels joining the lineup, this had the potential to the greatest Huskies basketball season yet. Now, it’s a season they’re simply hoping to salvage.
At the very least, they gave the game away Saturday. They likely gave away much more.