Almost 10 thousand people stuffed in an arena. An alley-oop and-one in the final minutes of the game.
A second-half comeback, an All-American performance from their best player, a late go-ahead three-pointer, and yet the most memorable sound from the Huskies’ Pac-12 opener was…
Thursday night at Hec-Ed, an epic showdown ended in a biting letdown. The near sold-out crowd used every inch of its collective larynx, but left with nothing to celebrate.
Everything was in place for the Huskies to start league play in the most emphatic of fashions. But like so many possessions Thursday, they let it slip away.
UCLA’s 66-64 win over Washington was a study in one team savoring opportunities and the other one squandering them. The Bruins weren’t the more talented team in the building, but they were the more tenacious and disciplined one.
After outrebounding Washington 38-27 and staving off UW run after UW run, UCLA was victorious while the Huskies were vexed. How did they let this happen?
“We’ve got a good team, we’ve got high-quality players, but we’re making some mistakes that are costing us games and we gotta be able to fix that,” Huskies coach Mike Hopkins said. “That’s three close games now — last year we were winning the close ones, this year we’re struggling.”
The Bruins (8-6, 1-0 in conference) didn’t really have any impressive wins coming into this game. The Huskies, meanwhile, had beaten sixth-ranked Baylor while hanging tight with top-ranked Gonzaga and Houston.
But none of that matters when you give up 22 offensive rebounds, which were twice as many as the Huskies managed. And it really doesn’t matter when you only get 14 minutes out of your second-leading scorer.
That’s all freshman Jaden McDaniels was able to give Washington (10-4, 0-1) Thursday night. He picked up his third personal foul late in the first half, got hit with a technical foul immediately afterward, then fouled out in transition with 16:10 left in the game. It deprived UW, which trailed by eight at halftime, of a consistent second scorer — yet the Huskies almost came back anyway.
Led by freshman center Isaiah Stewart, who finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks, Washington took the lead less than six minutes into the second half thanks to a 13-4 run. They would spend the rest of the half trading leads with with UCLA, as neither team led by more than three after that point.
Perhaps most would expect such a back-and-forth in a conference opener. But the Huskies were irked they had to come back at all.
“It goes back to slow starts. We had this problem earlier in the year,” Stewart said. “We looked like our legs were stuck in sand.”
But the Huskies kept answering. They looked destined for a win when Nahziah Carter threw down an alley-oop off a pass from Quade Green with 2:56 remaining, which gave the Huskies a two-point lead after Carter made the ensuing free throw. They looked even more destined after Carter drilled a three-pointer to put Washington up 64-63 with 24 seconds left.
But then UCLA’s Jake Kyman, who had made four three-pointers all season coming into the game, drilled his seventh three to give the Bruins the lead for good. Somehow, the Huskies let the guy who’d been killing them all night get a wide-open look.
After the game, Hopkins emphasized the idea that “champions respond.” His team will try to fix what went wrong in practice and come out better.
But gone is the chance to open conference play with flair. Now the Huskies must rebound, something they couldn’t do it all Thursday.