The Huskies lost 76-73 to previously winless California but won the outright Pac-12 regular-season title because Arizona State and Oregon State lost.
BERKELEY, Calif. – Washington is the Pac-12 champion once again.
However, this isn’t how the 25th-ranked Huskies envisioned they’d win the title.
Not on a night when they suffered a disheartening 76-73 defeat against California, the last-place team in the Pac-12 that entered Thursday’s matchup at Haas Pavilion with a 16-game losing streak.
“You got to play with passion and have a chip on our shoulder with every possession and we didn’t have that tonight,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “We didn’t have basic principles. We were breaking down and you can’t do that with your foundation.
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“They outhustled us. They out-toughed us.”
Despite the loss, Washington (22-6, 13-2 Pac-12) clinched the outright conference regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament due to defeats on Thursday by Arizona State and Oregon State.
The Huskies had planned to party with the championship trophy and a contingency of UW brass that flew to the game from Seattle, including athletic director Jen Cohen.
However, UW players and coaches were in no mood to celebrate their first outright conference title since 2012.
“Championships or no championships, all I care about is playing the best that we can play as a team,” Hopkins said. “I always say we’ve been in uncharted territory. How do you know what you don’t know?
“Tonight was a great lesson. … We just didn’t play like you got to play to be a championship-level team every night.”
Washington squandered a career-high 32-point performance from David Crisp on a night when the Pac-12’s stingiest defense uncharacteristically fell flat and allowed Cal to shoot 55.6 percent from the field.
It was the most points the Huskies had allowed since giving up 81 points at No. 1 Gonzaga on Dec. 5.
And yet for long stretches, it looked as if Crisp wasn’t going to let Washington lose this game and somehow script a storybook ending.
The diminutive point guard with the big heart channeled his inner Isaiah Thomas, put the Huskies on his shoulders and carried them for most of the night.
Crisp nearly did it all for Washington. The 6-foot senior converted tough layups inside and sank 5 of 12 three-pointers.
And when the Huskies trailed 67-60 with 9:06 left, Crisp provided an emotional spark and verbally lit into teammates who responded with one last push.
That’s when Jaylen Nowell took over and tallied nine points of his 22 points during an 11-4 run. His fastbreak layup tied the game at 71-71 with 4:36 left.
Moments later, Crisp also knotted the score at 73-73 with a layup with 2:18 remaining, but the Huskies went scoreless the rest of the way.
The Golden Bears went ahead for good with a Darius McNeill free throw on the ensuing possession followed by two fouls shots by Paris Austin with 23.8 seconds left.
Still, the game wasn’t decided until the very end.
Washington had a chance to tie the game in the final 12 seconds, but Dominic Green, Nowell and Crisp each missed a three-pointer that would have forced overtime.
“We didn’t respect he game (and) didn’t respect our opponent,” Crisp said. “Just expected that we were going to come out and win the game. Obviously, you’re never going to win a basketball game like that.”
McNeill tallied 19 points, Connor Vanover 18 and Justice Suing 14 for California, which improved to 6-22 overall and 1-15 in Pac-12.
In the first half, both teams scored at will as California shot 64.3 percent from the field and 66.7 percent on three-pointers.
Meanwhile, Washington converted 55.6 percent of it attempts from the field and behind the arc.
The Huskies had no defense for McNeill and Vanover.
McNeill hit four three-pointers while the 7-foot-3 freshman center punished Wahsington inside with mid-range jumpers and dunks, including a jam that gave Cal a 42-34 lead.
At the other end, the Golden Bears couldn’t stop Crisp who torched them for several open long-distance daggers in the corner.
It seemed like a big of foreshadowing when Crisp hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the first half and Washington went into halftime trailing 45-44.
“We didn’t play our best game, but a lot of it is we got to give Cal credit,” Hopkins said. “Cal did a good job. They scored 46 points and we’re not going to beat anybody giving up 46 points in a half.
“We just couldn’t stop them.”
The Huskies also trailed by a point (29-28) in their first meeting when they outscored the Golden Bears 42-24 in the second half for a blowout 71-52 victory.
This time Cal outscored UW 31-29 in the second half.
The Golden Bears converted 8 of 12 three-pointers after making just 1 of 15 the first time they played the Huskies. Cal also won the battle of the boards 29-26.
Washington, which hasn’t had back-to-back losses this season, completes its Bay Area trip on Sunday afternoon at Stanford.
“We take a loss right here, got to learn from it,” Crisp said. “Watch film. Learn from our mistakes and correct those in the next game.”
— Sophomore forward Hameir Wright rejoined the Huskies after missing last Saturday’s game and flying home to Albany, N.Y. due to a family emergency.
— Per his contract, UW coach Mike Hopkins picked up a $40,000 bonus for winning the Pac-12 regular-season title.