The Huskies got a career-high 32 points from David Crisp, but they fell flat in a 76-73 defeat at last-place California. Could it cost them an NCAA tournament berth? Here's the big picture after the loss.
BERKELEY, Calif. – Well, that was unexpected.
The No. 25 Huskies were planning a party on the Haas Pavilion floor to celebrate their first outright Pac-12 regular-season title in seven years.
Instead, it was the California Golden Bears dancing and dousing their beleaguered coach with water after a stunning 76-73 victory and their first win since Dec. 21, which snapped a 16-game losing streak.
Cal (6-22, 1-15), which avoided becoming the first Pac-12 team to finish with a winless record, had plenty of reasons to cheer because it was by far the biggest victory for coach Wyking Jones during a two-year tenure that’s included a school record for defeats and calls for his job.
Meanwhile, Washington (22-6, 13-2) wasn’t feeling terribly excited about backing into a Pac-12 title due to defeats elsewhere around the conference.
Here are three impressions from Thursday night’s game.
BAD OPTICS FOR UW, THE PAC-12
From 3,000 miles away, this game was a disaster for the Pac-12 and Washington. The national college basketball media, which already has a dour opinion of the conference, now has plenty more ammunition to take shots at the league.
The Pac-12 is already in jeopardy of becoming a one-bid team on Selection Sunday when at-large and automatic berths are distributed for the NCAA tournament.
Pretty sure Arizona State (19-9, 10-6) will tumble out of most NCAA tourney forecasts after Thursday’s deflating 79-51 defeat at Oregon. Before the loss, the Sun Devils were projected as a No. 11 seed.
ASU plays at Oregon State (17-10, 9-6) on Sunday, which is a must-win game for both teams. OSU had hopes of claiming an at-large NCAA berth before Thursday’s 74-72 upset against Arizona.
Throw in Washington’s clunker at Cal and it was just an awful night for the Pac-12’s top three teams.
Instead of sprinting down the stretch, the league’s best are stumbling and falling all over themselves.
Not that it mattered to them, but the Huskies can say so long to their No. 25 ranking and it’s unlikely they’ll ever crack the top 25 again this season.
The greater concern is UW’s standing in the NET where it fell three spots to No. 32.
Washington was a team devoid of a signature win and now it has a bad loss that sullies what had been a relatively clean resume.
The Huskies were considered a No. 6 or 7 seed in many NCAA tournament projections this week and now they’ll probably need to win the Pac-12 tournament to maintain their position or perhaps rise a little higher.
GOOD CAL OR BAD UW?
Was California really that good Thursday night or did Washington play poorly?
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Quite frankly, I don’t know.
Maybe both statements are true.
It’s just difficult to understand how the Golden Bears, who had a long and documented history of underachieving and falling apart in the second half, were able to play 40 solid minutes of basketball against the best team in the Pac-12.
In their first meeting, Washington outscored Cal 42-24 in the second half for a 71-52 victory at Alaska Airlines Arena on Jan. 19. In that game, the Huskies held the Bears to just 1-of-15 shooting on three-pointers and 30.5 percent shooting from the field.
But on Thursday, Cal torched UW’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense like few others.
This wasn’t No. 1 Gonzaga or No. 11 Auburn or No. 13 Virginia Tech shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 53.3 percent on three-pointers (8 of 15).
It was 7-foot-3 freshman center Connor Vanover (18 points and 7 rebounds) who shut down Noah Dickerson (8 points and 7 rebounds) in the middle.
It was sophomore guard Darius McNeill, who found holes in UW’s defense for four three-pointers and a team-high 19 points.
It was sophomore forward Justice Sueing – Cal’s version of Matisse Thybulle – doing a little bit of everything and finishing with 14 points, eight rebounds (four on the offensive glass), six assists, three steals and two blocks.
And it was Jones outcoaching Mike Hopkins, who had been masterful the past two months while leading UW to wins in 15 of its previous 16 games.
The Bears did whatever they wanted on the offensive end and the Huskies never took away anything. Vanover is a matchup problem due to his height, but he was surprisingly patient and smooth while knocking down midrange jumpers.
Cal’s big man was the difference in the game. Washington never made him uncomfortable in the high post. Thybulle and Hameir Wright have 7-foot wingspans, but they couldn’t reach high enough to block or alter Vanover, who made 8 of 15 shots.
Before Thursday night, the Huskies had forced 19 turnovers per game, which was first in the Pac-12. But the Golden Bears took care of the ball and committed just 11 turnovers. Cal also had 22 assists on 30 field goals, including nine helpers from point guard Paris Austin.
BIG NIGHT FROM THE LITTLE GUY
David Crisp had never played better than he did Thursday.
He hit several momentum-swinging shots – many of which were off-balance as he’s fading away from a defender.
He went inside and scored against Vanover and Sueing with contorting acrobatic drives that ended with the ball spinning off the glass for a layup.
And he finished with a career-high 32 points that tied the season high for a UW player.
Crisp also had three assists, one steal and did not commit a turnover in 34 minutes.
Jaylen Nowell was effective scoring. He converted 7 of 14 field goals, 4 of six 6 three-pointers and 4 of 4 free throws for 22 points that tied his season scoring high in Pac-12 games.
Nowell also finished with eight rebounds and two steals – both team highs – in 35 minutes.
As good as he was, Nowell hurt the Huskies at times with six turnovers.
The other UW players combined for just 19 points and didn’t make a significant offensive contribution aside from Thybulle’s seven assists.
But a lack of scoring wasn’t the issue considering Washington averages 71 points and tallied its most points in seven games.