The Huskies put a bull’s-eye on Payton Pritchard and prioritized stopping the National Player of the Year candidate if they were going to have any chance of upsetting No. 8 Oregon.
Yet, in the final seconds of an intense battle against their Northwest rival, Washington surrendered a game-winning shot to the guy at the top of its scouting report.
Despite blanket coverage that forced him near the midcourt line, Pritchard created space with a step-back three-pointer from 26 feet over Jamal Bey’s outstretched reach that handed the Huskies a heartbreaking 64-61 overtime defeat on Saturday.
“This is my city!” Pritchard screamed to the soldout crowd of 9,268 at sold-out Alaska Airlines Arena while being mobbed by teammates. “My city! My city! I own this city!”
He’s not wrong.
Pritchard has never lost to the Huskies in Seattle, posting a stellar 4-0 record. And he’s 7-1 against Washington, including a UW win last year in Eugene, Ore.
“I’ll be there to make that play,” said Pritchard, who finished with 22 points, including six three-pointers, three assists, three rebounds and two steals. “Take that shot. Make that pass. We kept fighting the whole game.”
Pritchard’s late-game heroics overshadowed a dominant performance from Isaiah Stewart, who finished with 25 points, a career-high 19 rebounds, five blocks, two assists and two steals in 42 1/2 minutes.
“It was like he was going to will us to the game,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “He’s just special. … That’s a man and a professional in all elements of his life and how he handles everything. Wish we could have got that one for him today.”
The Huskies needed a big performance from their star freshman forward on a day when UW’s other starters scored a combined 16 points on 5-for-23 shooting.
Stewart converted 6 of 13 field goals, including his first three-pointer of the season. He drew 13 fouls and sank 12 of 15 free throws.
“Teams are designed to stop him,” Hopkins said. “They try to hit him, and they put smaller guys on him. And he’s so classy. He doesn’t flop. He doesn’t complain. He talks to you. He’s respectful. He’s everything that you want in a student-athlete, 3.8 (grade-point average). Just wish we could have gotten this one for him today.”
Washington led for 35 minutes and built a 16-point lead with 10:22 left, but self-destructed in the final minutes once again.
The late-game meltdown was similar to Washington’s close defeats against Houston (75-71), UCLA (66-64), Stanford (61-55) and California (61-55 OT) when the Huskies squandered second-half leads.
“It’s hard anytime you lose especially when you feel like you had control of the game,” Hopkins said. “This is not the third, fourth or fifth game where we lost by two points, three points or one point where you have control against a really good team, up 16 in the second half.
“You got to be able to close that. The way they get back is by turning you over. Our offense got a little stale. We got tired and that really hurt us. And with all that being said, we missed a couple of foul shots and that could have closed the game.”
The Huskies were ahead 48-32 and seemingly sailing to one of their most impressive wins of the season when they wilted under Oregon’s full-court press and stopped scoring.
Washington committed just three turnovers in the first half, but had nine in the second half that led to 10 Oregon points. The Huskies also converted just 4 of 19 field goals, including 0 for 8 three-pointers in the second half.
“That’s on me,” said freshman Marcus Tsohonis, who came off the bench and tallied a career-high 14 points, four rebounds and two assists to offset four turnovers in 36 minutes and 29 seconds. “I felt like I didn’t get us in the right position. We were feeling chaotic. We were shooting bad shots at the end of the clock. I put that on me being the point guard on the floor and not getting everybody into their position.”
Stewart added: “That’s not on you, bro. It’s on all of us. We were running two plays the whole game and … all of sudden we don’t know how to run the play.”
The Ducks (15-4, 4-2 Pac-12) closed the second half with a 24-8 run and regulation ended with Bey’s three-pointer at the buzzer hitting the back of the rim.
“We were preaching don’t think about the score right now and it’s 0-0, ” Tsohonis said. “Keep pushing and keep playing hard. I felt like we did play hard throughout the whole game, but just the little things like loose rebounds, missing free throws. It’s a lot that goes into it.”
Tsohonis, who missed four free throws in the second half, also lamented the Huskies’ dismal performance at the line, where they made 20 of 30.
“I (put) that on me,” he said. “Missing four. We win the games if I make free throws.”
Neither team led by more than two points in overtime until the end.
Washington was up 59-57 before baskets from Chandler Lawson (16 points and 12 rebounds) and Pritchard gave Oregon a two-point advantage.
Stewart answered with a couple of free throws that tied the game at 61-61 with 49 seconds left to set up the late-game theatrics.
Pritchard missed a deep three-pointer with 27 seconds left, but Chris Duarte secured the offensive rebound to give him another chance at the game-winner.
After a Ducks timeout, UW’s 2-3 zone defense pushed Pritchard deep into the backcourt where he buried a dagger with 3.4 seconds left. It was just enough time for the Huskies to push the ball up court and get it to sharp-shooter RaeQuan Battle, but his hurried three-pointer fell short of the rim.
“We weren’t even supposed to be in that position for (Pritchard) to even make that shot,” Tsohonis said. “Jamal had a good defensive play there. It was a tough shot from a great player.”
Still, Pritchard’s shot was eerily similar to the game-winning three-pointers from California’s Matt Bradley and UCLA’s Jake Kyman.
“You have to extend,” Hopkins said. “We didn’t execute that. You lose a guy like that who means so much to the team; he’s the head of the snake and you got to make sure he doesn’t have a chance to even see the basket. You got to force somebody else to beat you. He’s an exceptional player. He was the No. 1 thing on the scouting report and we didn’t defend it too well.”
With 12 regular-season games remaining, Hopkins insists there’s still time for the Huskies (12-7, 2-4) to resurrect their fading NCAA tournament hopes.
Meanwhile, Oregon (15-4, 4-2) rebounded from an upset loss Thursday at Washington State and is a half game outside of first place in the conference.
“There’s a lot of season left against really good teams,” he said. “We’re close. We showed so many great signs. We just got to get over the hump.”