It’s a good thing the Alaska Airlines Arena stanchion beneath the basket is protected with purple padding or else Isaiah Stewart might have done some serious damage to himself after landing a wild punch in frustration.
Washington’s star freshman had a rebound slip out of his hands and land out of bounds, which precipitated his burst of anger.
It was that type of night for the Huskies.
For much of Thursday night’s Pac-12 opener, the defending conference regular-season champions failed to execute seemingly mundane tasks and were often their own worst enemy.
And a wild game that was seemingly in their grasp in the final moments quite literally slipped away at the end as the Huskies absorbed a 66-64 defeat to UCLA.
“I felt like in the first half we were just slow to the ball and they were faster to the ball,” coach Mike Hopkins said, lamenting the Bruins’ 38-27 rebounding disparity and their 15-4 second-chance points. “In the second half, it felt a little bit like Houston.
“We got them to the end of the shot clock a lot and just couldn’t get the ball. We’ve got to be better. I’ve got to prepare them better. But sometimes the ball bounces like that and it definitely did tonight.”
Despite the absence of standout freshman Jaden McDaniels, who fouled out with 16 minutes left, Washington overcame an 11-point deficit behind Stewart’s indomitable will and late-game heroics from Nahziah Carter.
Stewart, who has scored at least 21 points in five of the past six games, poured in 24 on 6-of-12 shooting. He also had 11 rebounds and five blocks.
“We’ve got a guy that nobody can stop when we get the ball in the paint,” Hopkins said. “When you get yourself behind 10 points and you’re constantly clawing, I just felt like we made some of the same mistakes over and over that have cost us games, especially late.”
Despite the miscues, Carter scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and nearly carried the the Huskies to a win.
The high-flying sophomore guard sent a jolt through the crowd of 9,027 with an alley-oop dunk over Chris Smith despite being fouled. Carter canned the free throw for a four-point play that gave UW a 56-54 lead.
Down two points minutes later, Carter drained a three-pointer that put the Huskies ahead 64-63 with 24 seconds left.
However, at the other end the Huskies lost track of Jake Kyman, who scored 21 points and canned 7 of 12 three-pointers, including the go-ahead three with eight seconds left.
“We take away the three, but at the end of the day sometimes we break down,” Hopkins said, noting that Kyman had just four three-pointers this season. “Once a guy makes 2-3, you have to change the way, with awareness, and we didn’t find him when we needed to.”
After a timeout, Hopkins drew up one final play for Carter, who lost the ball while driving to the rim with a chance to tie.
“That’s three close games now,” Hopkins said referring to close defeats to Gonzaga and Houston. “Last year we were winning the close games and this year we’re struggling with those.”
Washington (10-4, 0-1 Pac-12) was down 34-24 at the break and came out lethargic in a bizarre first half in which Hopkins uncharacteristically used a 10-man rotation to find a spark.
The Huskies lost their composure at times and bickered with officials, which became detrimental when McDaniels collected a technical foul while sitting on the bench.
Moments earlier, McDaniels expressed frustration after losing the ball on a turnover and then committed a questionable foul while poking the ball away from a UCLA player.
Twenty-one seconds later, McDaniels sat on the sidelines and threw a loose ball back on the court in the direction of a UCLA player, which drew the technical and his fourth foul with 3:16 left in the first half.
“When the ball came he passed it hard to the guy,” Hopkins said. “I didn’t actually see it. … I was really upset. We just can’t do that. We can’t have that type of behavior. We need him to play. It gave him his fourth foul. We just can’t do that. There’s no place in the game for it on the team. We’ve got to just get better.
“We need him. We him more than 13 minutes. He’s one of our best players. We need him to be better.”
It was the third technical foul this season for McDaniels, who fouled out with 16:10 remaining. He finished with a career-low three points and four turnovers in 14 minutes, which was his shortest stint of the season.
“Jaden is a great kid,” Hopkins said. “He’s not a bad kid. He likes to have fun, but he’s got to be more serious in certain situations. I don’t think he did anything maliciously.
“I just think it was one of those things where the referee is a little sensitive. He threw the ball. … He’s just got to be better. You shouldn’t do it in the first place and No. 2 it puts us at a disadvantage with points and foul trouble. It can’t happen.”
Washington finishes its first swing through a Pac-12 weekend with Sunday’s 7 p.m. game against USC.
“Hate to lose and learn, but sometimes you need to do it,” Hopkins said. “I’ll see how we respond and get better in practice. DMGB — it doesn’t matter get better.
“In this business you’ve got to have a short-term memory. We’ve got a great team. We’ve got high-quality players, but we’re making some mistakes that are costing us in close games and we’ve got to be able to fix that.”