So that happened.
The Huskies had control of a game and were seemingly cruising to a lopsided win before stumbling, staggering and literally falling in the final minutes of a 67-66 defeat at Utah on Thursday night.
Another failure to finish.
With a game at No. 23 Colorado on Saturday and No. 22 Arizona visiting Seattle next Thursday, there’s a deepening sense that Washington (12-8, 2-5 Pac-12) may not recover from this midseason downturn in which its lost six of the past eight games.
Here are three impressions.
Hopkins is running out of answers
Washington coach Mike Hopkins admitted that this loss hurt more than all the others. Perhaps it was so painful because he’d hope the Huskies had learned their lesson from previous setbacks.
But Hopkins struggled to explain UW’s fourth defeat after holding a double-digit lead in the second half. This time, the Huskies led by 12 points (52-40) with 8:14 left. They were up 66-61 at the 1:25 mark before failing to score on their final three possessions, while Utah ended the game with six straight free throws.
Hopkins couldn’t make sense of some questionable decisions by Jaden McDaniels (more on this later). The UW coach also didn’t understand Nahziah Carter’s shot selection with 29 seconds left when he settled for a fadeaway jumper in the lane instead of attacking the rim.
And Hopkins was visibly frustrated with the officiating and came close to lambasting the refs during his postgame interview. It remains to be seen if the Pac-12 dings him for his comments, but he clearly was not pleased with the disparity in free-throw attempts.
Utah converted 24 of 32 at the line, while UW was 11 of 14.
Hopkins also expressed disappointment with the Huskies and said players have to take control at the end of games.
“I wish I could play,” he said. “I wish I could put Cam Dollar out there. I wish I could put Will Conroy and Dave Rice, wish we could put those guys (out there). These guys got to make plays. You’ve got to make the plays. You’ve got to make the foul shots. You’ve got to get us into our offense. You’ve got to execute when the game is on the line. We didn’t do that.”
Feed the big man
Inexplicably, freshman star Isaiah Stewart attempted just eight shots against a Utah team that had nobody inside who could stand up against him.
And yet, the Utes were able to deny the Huskies from getting the ball inside to their leading scorer, who entered the game averaging 18.3 points, with what appeared to be a fairly simple double team. Utah had 7-foot center Branden Carlson in the post and forward Timmy Allen in front of Stewart.
Still, Stewart finished with 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting. When he did get the ball, Utah did a great job of defending him without fouling.
Stewart made one of just two free throws. In the previous game, he connected on 12 of 15 foul shots.
McDaniels picks up another technical
In full disclosure, I didn’t see the play in which McDaniels picked up a technical foul. The media seating at Huntsman Center is about 50 feet from the court and there are no television monitors on press row.
So I don’t know what Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak saw that prompted him to urge the officials to take another look at a play in which McDaniels hit Utes forward Mikael Jantunen in the head.
In the moment it seemed unusual because Krystkowiak’s request came after Rylan Jones made the first of two free throws. And after the game, it was explained that Utah would have been charged a timeout if the refs didn’t see any infraction.
After reviewing the monitor, the officials gave McDaniels a dead-ball technical during a sequence in which Utah made four free throws and retained possession of the ball.
On the next play, McDaniels fouled Jones on a three-pointer to collect his fifth foul. (It needs to be noted that Jones was 0 for 8 on three-pointers before that attempt.) The Utah guard, who hit 9 of 10 free throws, made 2 of 3 foul shots, and the momentum swung toward the Utes, who trailed 62-61 with 2:04 left.
McDaniels’ late-game miscues overshadowed his 14 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
But the larger question is why does McDaniels have four technicals this season?
Again, Hopkins doesn’t have a good answer.
“I don’t think there’s anything going on,” he said. “I just don’t know why the hell that play is made. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a game play. He’s the nicest guy in the league. I don’t get it. I don’t get it. But you just can’t make that play.”