LAS VEGAS — The Huskies ended a season marked by near-record setting defeats and futility with yet another head-scratching loss that will haunt them during the offseason.
In the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, the No. 10 seed Washington men’s basketball team scored more points than it has in 3½ seasons and received a superlative scoring performance from senior point guard Quade Green in what’s likely his last collegiate game.
However, nothing ever comes easy for UW, especially this season.
As good as the Huskies were on the offensive end, they couldn’t overcome their porous perimeter defense that surrendered 14 three-pointers to No. 7 Utah during a 98-95 defeat Wednesday night in front of a small gathering of family and friends at T-Mobile Arena.
“The big problem this year has been our defense,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “Our defense is well, well below average in what we did our first three years. It’s something — it’s like your engine, you got to fix it. We just weren’t good enough defensively.”
Washington finished the regular season ranked last in the Pac-12 in points allowed (77.4 points per game) and 11th in opponent’s field-goal percentage (45.4%).
Against UW’s matchup zone, which starts possessions looking like a 2-3 zone before switching to man-to-man principles, Utah tallied the most points since UCLA scored 98 on March 1, 2017.
“Hat’s off to Utah,” Hopkins said while noting the Utes converted 14 of 26 three-pointers. “They shot the ball as good as we have seen a team shoot the ball. We broke down a few times, but, boy, they were hot. When you play a team that shoots like that, it’s going to be a struggle.”
Washington out-rebounded Utah 33-27, but Hopkins lamented a one-sided free throw disparity that favored the Utes. Utah converted 20 of 27 foul shots while UW was 10 of 13.
However, Utah’s three-point prowess proved to be the difference.
It took the Mikael Jantunen just 16 seconds after tip off to drain his first three-pointer, and the Utes peppered the Huskies with perimeter shots that landed like haymakers all night long.
The game turned on a rainbow three from Alfonso Plummer who also drew a foul on Hameir Wright and connected the ensuing free throw for a four-point play that gave Utah a 10-8 lead and sparked a 23-4 run.
Plummer ended the spurt with — you guessed it — another three-pointer that put the Utes up 29-12 with 10:55 left.
Washington, which trailed by 17 points in the first half, went into halftime down 47-35.
The Huskies were down by 19 points (87-68) in the final five minutes before making one last run and cutting their deficit to single digits at the end.
“To be honest we were kind of used to it all year,” UW junior guard Jamal Bey said. “We have been just getting down in games, so we were used to that. So we just treat it like every game, come back and play harder and get stops when we needed them and try to win the game. That’s all we’re trying to do.”
Washington outscored Utah 27-11 in final five minutes, which included Cole Bajema’s three-pointer with second remaining to cap the scoring.
“We ran out of time, but we had many chances earlier in the game to pull this one off,” Bey said. “We fell short.”
If this was his final game, then Green went out with a bang while tallying a career-high 31 points — including 22 in the second half — seven assists, three rebounds and two steals.
The NCAA has granted student-athletes an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, but it’s unclear if Green or senior forward Hameir Wright will return next season.
“He just plays hard, and he’s been a really good teammate,” Hopkins said when asked about Green. “Came all the way from Philadelphia. I just wish we could have (given) him more wins this year.”
Bey had 18 points, four three-pointers and five rebounds while Erik Stevenson added 14 points and five assists and Nate Roberts finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
Washington tallied the most points against a Pac-12 team since scoring 99 versus Washington State on March 2, 2016.
Still, the Huskies were outpaced by a balanced Utah attack in which every starter scored in double figures.
Timmy Allen had 24 points, Plummer 21, Branden Carlson 13, Pelle Larsson and Jantunen each had 12 while Riley Battin had 11 off the bench for Utah (12-12), which advances to Thursday’s quarterfinals to face No. 2 USC.
Washington begins an uncertain offseason needing to improve a thin frontline that should be bolstered with the addition of McDonald’s All-American Jackson Grant, a 6-foot-10 forward from Olympia High.
“A big thing is just kind of getting back, talking to the guys, getting ready what our plan is for next year,” Hopkins said. “Obviously we were disappointed with our record. That’s not where we want to be and there’s got to be some improvements.”
The Huskies, which were 11th in the Pac-12 at 4-16, finished the season at 5-21 and tied with the 1993-94 UW team for the school’s fewest wins in a season.
Washington’s .192 winning percentage also ranks as the fifth worst all-time in the Pac-12 since the 1968-69 season.
“It hasn’t been the year that we wanted in terms of wins and losses, but I was proud of the way that they were resilient and how they fought, how they stayed together, and how they just kept trying to get better,” Hopkins said. “So really proud of the guys.”