By now the script has become all too familiar for the hard-luck Huskies and their disillusioned fans.
Washington plays hard for 30 or so minutes and builds a sizable lead in the second half only to give it all back and fall spectacularly in the final minutes.
It happened again Thursday night.
This time, the Huskies blew a nine-point lead and lost 75-72 to Arizona in a game in which UW had plenty of chances at the end.
“Unfortunately, it sucks to play our (butts) off for 35 minutes and the last five minutes we end up losing,” said freshman guard RaeQuan Battle, who led UW with 14 points off the bench. “But it happens and we’ve got to figure out what we need to do.”
At this point, it seems as if coach Mike Hopkins and the Huskies have exhausted every attempt to avoid their late-game meltdowns. Washington (12-10, 2-7 Pac-12) has lost four straight games, which is the longest during Hopkins’ three-year tenure.
“We’re making mistakes on both ends and we’re allowing it fester,” Hopkins said. “I kept telling the guys you’ve got to have a short-term memory, be loose and have fun. We’re going to make mistakes. Just learn from it and get better.”
However, Washington isn’t getting better and has regressed since a 10-2 start in December.
The Huskies have lost eight of their past 10 games. They’re 1-6 in games decided by five points or fewer and they’ve lost five games in which they had at least a nine-point lead in the second half.
“I feel like we have to recognize what’s working and don’t change it,” Battle said. “If we go up nine, I’m not saying what changes were made, but changes were made and we got a little excited about it.
“We were up and winning and we felt good. The crowd was hyped. I felt like we were rushing a little bit. We’ve just got to stick to what we were doing before.”
The perplexing part of Thursday’s game is all the momentum swung toward Arizona on the same play when Washington built its biggest lead after halftime.
And Jaden McDaniels, a lightning rod for praise and criticism, was at the center of it all. The UW freshman star drove baseline and before anyone knew it, the 6-foot-9 forward sprung off the floor for a spectacular dunk over two defenders, giving Washington a 57-48 lead with 12:55 left.
Following the flush, McDaniels drew a technical foul, his fifth of the season, for trash talking and yelling in the face of Arizona’s Ira Lee.
The Wildcats converted the ensuing free throws, which sparked a 7-0 run that cut UW’s lead to 57-55.
“Any time you get a technical you give a team points and you’re giving them that,” Hopkins said. “But we ended up getting it back up to (five).”
McDaniels, who finished with 12 points, five assists, five rebounds and three blocks, sank a three-pointer to give Washington a 65-60 lead with 8:02 left. He also hit a free throw that put UW up 69-64 with 5:52 left.
However in the final five minutes, the Huskies have recently floundered and this time was no exception as Arizona outscored UW 11-3.
The Wildcats took the lead for good when backup guard Jemarl Baker Jr., who finished with 14 points and four three-pointers, drained a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left that stunned the near-sellout crowd of 9, 123 at Alaska Airlines Arena into silence.
Arizona (14-6, 4-3), which won its first true road game, also received 16 points from freshman guard Nico Mannion and senior forward Stone Gettings had 13.
After Baker’s shot, Washington had three opportunities to take the lead or tie.
However, Battle missed a long three-pointer, McDaniels lost the ball on a turnover and freshman backup guard Marcus Tsohonis shot an air-ball three-pointer on UW’s final offensive trip.
Despite converting just 3 of 13 attempts, Hopkins drew up plays for Isaiah Stewart (nine points and 11 rebounds), but the Huskies couldn’t get the ball inside against Arizona’s swarming defense.
“Where I took it didn’t feel good,” said Battle, who made 4 of 8 three-pointers, when asked about his 26-footer. “The rhythm and release all felt fine, but I felt like the play was broken. The original plan was to get to the rim and possibly get fouled for an and-1 to go up by one. But that wasn’t the case. So I just felt like I had to put it up.”
Nahziah Carter finished with 13 points and Hameir Wright 12 for Washington, which hosts Arizona State on Saturday night.
“The only thing you can control is how hard and how smart you play (and) as coaches we’ve got to coach better,” Hopkins said. “We’ve got a lot of youth and we’ve got to keep teaching them.
“We keep making some of the same errors and same mistakes. … The biggest thing is keeping your head up. It’s a long season and we’re just trying to find our best game. Losing is disappointing. No one likes to lose. Especially how we’re losing. But we’re right there. We’ve just got to do it until we get out of it.”