In the final minutes, Marcus Tsohonis came off the bench to drop midrange floaters. Hameir Wright drained a three-point dagger from the corner.
And Quade Green flipped in an acrobatic shot before crashing to the Pauley Pavilion floor to put the Washington men’s basketball team in position to win a game for the first time in six weeks.
Still, the Huskies trailed UCLA by three points with 23 seconds left and needed one more shot at the end.
After a timeout, coach Mike Hopkins drew up a play for Green, but the Bruins’ tight defense forced Erik Stevenson into a contested 22-foot three-pointer that sailed long and hit the back of the rim.
Washington, which led by 12 points in the first half, played its best game of the season, but Saturday’s result was all too familiar — an 81-76 defeat.
The Huskies (1-11, 0-7 Pac-12) have lost eight straight, which ties for the third-longest losing streak in school history. (Last season, UW lost nine in a row. The 2016-17 team lost 13 straight before Hopkins’ arrival.)
“Those guys came out tonight, and they were fighting,” Hopkins said. “We were fighting right from the get go. That’s a great sign for us moving forward. There are no moral victories here. We played better and better defense, but we’ve got to close games.”
No moral victories for sure, but statistically speaking, the Huskies made major improvements considering they barely offered any resistance during Thursday’s 95-68 defeat at USC.
Washington has lost by at least 14 points in seven games and appeared headed toward another blowout against UCLA, which entered game with the Pac-12’s most efficient offense, which averaged 78.1 points while shooting 48.6% from the field and 44.6% on three-pointers.
However, the Huskies stymied the Bruins early and raced out to a 39-27 lead at the start.
“We just took it on our shoulder that we ain’t going to get blown out by 30,” said Green, who rebounded from a five-point performance Thursday and finished with a game-high 25. “That’s what it was. … If they were missing shots, we would have won this game.”
For only the second time this season and the first time in its past seven games, Washington led at the break, taking a 39-29 lead into halftime.
Hopkins tweaked UW’s 2-3 zone defense and the Huskies might have delivered an early knockout if the Bruins hadn’t connected on 5 of 12 three-pointers to offset their 31.3% shooting from the field in the first half.
Aside from the perimeter defense, it was a flawless half for Washington, which converted over 53% of its field goals, including 6 of 15 three-point attempts.
UCLA made a few runs after the break.
The Bruins scored 10 straight points to start the second half and tie the score at 39-39. After Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s dunk for a 61-54 lead with 8:28 left, UCLA seemed as if it would take control for good.
That’s when Wright, who had a career-high 15 points, seven rebounds and three three-pointers, Tsohonis and Green took over during the Huskies’ 15-6 run that put them up 69-67 with 4:16 remaining.
UCLA answered again with a 10-1 run to go up 77-70 followed by four straight points by backup center Riley Sorn (10 points) to cut UW’s deficit to three in the final minute.
“I loved how are kids fought,” Hopkins said. “I loved how 2-3 times they went on big runs and we were able to come right back. That showed we’re getting more mentally tough. We’re becoming more poised in tough situations.”
Down 77-74 with 23 seconds left, Hopkins drew up a play on the sideline for Green that had him driving to the rim or passing outside for an open three-pointer.
However, Stevenson, who finished with 11 points and converted 3 of 6 three-pointers, was smothered by Jaylen Clark near the top of the key and couldn’t pass the ball. As the clock ticked, Stevenson launched a three-pointer that missed the mark with 14 seconds left.
“They blew the play up,” said Green who hit 10 of 16 shots and had five assists and five rebounds. “We trust E with the ball. He made the play that he made. He felt like he could make it. I never knew E to shoot a shot that he can’t make. They blew the play up and we had to find another option.”
Jules Bernard scored 20 points, Jaquez 15, Cody Riley 14 and Tyger Campbell 11 for Pac-12 leader UCLA (11-2, 7-0), which has won six in a row and 15 straight at Pauley Pavilion.
Meanwhile, Washington capped a four-game road stretch and returns home for games next week against Colorado and Utah.
The Huskies believe they’re closer to snapping a losing streak that’s currently tied for the fifth longest among Division I teams after what they described as a productive team meeting Friday and Saturday’s five-point defeat.
“There was a lot of positive,” Hopkins said. “I thought our guys stuck together tonight, which was big. Becoming closer and becoming more of a team.”
Green added: “Everything starts today.”