Three straight home games and three straight lopsided losses – each one progressively deflating for the Washington men’s basketball team.
If their 23-point loss to No. 20 Auburn was startling and Friday’s 13-point setback versus USC was humbling, then the Huskies’ 74-49 defeat to No. 11 UCLA was simply more of the same for a team that continues to search for that elusive signature win.
It’s been years – four to be exact – since the Huskies beat a team ranked in the Associated Press top 25 poll, which is a glaring omission from coach Mike Hopkins’ resume and has been a point of contention for disgruntled and dismayed UW fans.
Washington has lost 14 straight games against ranked teams and its latest attempt to snap that unglamorous streak never really got going and went awry early.
“We didn’t play well tonight,” Hopkins said. “We didn’t make the right reads. To beat a team like that you’re going to have to make some shots and you’re going to have to score.”
Washington’s 49 points were its fewest since tallying 42 against UC Riverside in a 15-point defeat on Dec. 1, 2020.
The Huskies also set new season lows in three-pointers made (2) and three-point shooting percentage (8%) on 25 attempts.
“It’s unfortunate,” said junior guard Cole Bajema, who was 1 for 6 on three-pointers. “My first three threes felt good. They were in and out, but sometimes that’s just how it goes. It’s tough to swallow that. Obviously, we didn’t shoot well. You’re not going to beat a lot of teams shooting 2 for 25 from three.”
Aside from Braxton Meah’s vast array of rim-rattling dunks and several hustle plays from Bajema, including a pair of blocks, a fastbreak slam and a contested jumper, the Huskies gave the Alaska Airlines Arena crowd of 7,494 very little to cheer about.
Washington fell behind 26-12 and appeared on the verge of being knocked out when Meah’s third dunk ignited a 13-4 run capped by Jamal Bey’s layup that pulled UW within 30-25 with 1:46 left in the first half.
That’s when the Bruins answered with a 6-2 spurt to take a 36-27 lead into the break.
“Getting it to five points near the end of the half with that run, it’s a big momentum shift for them because they kind of carried it going into the second half,” Bajema said. “If we could have cut that lead down to five or three, kept it to where it was, it shifts the whole game for the next half. We didn’t execute that. We had some slipups late in the first half.”
Washington never got any closer in the second half while being outscored 38-22 and outclassed by UCLA, which shot 50% in the half.
Meah was the only bright spot for the Huskies and the 7-foot-1 center finished with a career-high 20 points on 9-for-10 shooting and seven rebounds.
“I thought Braxton really fought tonight,” Hopkins said. “He battled. Those guys are good. They’re physical. They brought in three big guys. (Kenneth) Nwuba, (Mac) Etienne and (Adem) Bona. There were three guys going at him all night.”
Jaime Jaquez Jr. had 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists for UCLA (13-2, 4-0), which has won seven straight games against Washington and 15 of the past 17. Bona added 18 points, Tyger Campbell 15 and David Singleton 14 for the Bruins.
It was a night to forget for a short-handed UW team that was without PJ Fuller II due to illness. The Husky backcourt suffered another loss when freshman guard Keyon Menifield went down hard after a collision, left the game with 16:21 left and did not return.
After the game, Hopkins didn’t know the severity of Menifield’s injury and indicated Fuller would likely be available when Washington (9-6, 1-3) embarks on its first extended Pac-12 road trip starting with Thursday’s game at No. 5 Arizona.
“Right now, we’re all just trying to lock in and be prepared,” Meah said. “We’ve got to stay mentally focused and stay together as a team. That’s something that we really need to do. Stay together and stay focused.”
Heading to Arizona (13-1, 2-1) on a three-game skid is daunting, but Hopkins noted the Huskies had a 5-6 record at this time last year before winning eight of the next 11 games. UW finished 17-15 last season.
“It’s a long season and long road,” Hopkins said. “Last year we lost 4-5 in a row. You’ve just got to get better every day. This team has been resilient. They are resilient. They’re tough and we will work hard and get better for sure.”
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