SALT LAKE CITY – Earlier this week, Mike Hopkins revealed a statistic about the Huskies that made him grimace.
“In the last five minutes in Pac-12 games, teams are shooting 72 percent from the two-point line and 8 for 11 from the three-point line against us,” the UW coach said. “Those are staggering numbers.”
Hopkins added: “We’ve got to be a little bit tougher. We’ve got to be a little bit greedier. We’ve got to be a little bit more aware, especially at the end of games.”
The Huskies didn’t get the message.
For the second straight game, Washington blew a double-digit in the second half while committing several costly mistakes in the final minutes that resulted in a head-scratching 67-66 defeat at Utah in front of 9,396 at the Huntsman Center.
It’s the sixth time the Huskies have lost by six points or fewer.
It’s their fourth defeat in a game in which they led by at least 10 points after halftime, including a heartbreaking 64-61 overtime loss to then-No 8 Oregon in their previous outing.
And it’s yet another underwhelming performance that drops Washington (12-8, 2-5 Pac-12) into a tie at the bottom of the conference standings.
“It’s frustrating because we had control of all of these games,” said a visibly drained Hopkins. “A selfish shot here. A selfish play here. A turnover here. A missed foul shot here. You can’t win at a high level making those plays near the end of games. You just can’t.”
The Huskies climbed out of a 7-0 hole at the start and led 28-24 at halftime thanks in part to a balanced offensive attack led by Jaden McDaniels (14 points), Isaiah Stewart (13 points and seven rebounds), Hameir Wright (12 points and nine rebounds) and Nahziah Carter (10 points).
Riley Battin led Utah (11-7, 2-4) with 17 points. Rylan Jones and Timmy Allen each scored 13.
Washington, which led for nearly 30 minutes, converted 51.1 percent of its field goals and canned 9 of 20 three-pointers while holding Utah to 33.9 percent shooting, including 3-of-24 shooting on three-pointers.
The Utes missed 30 of 59 shots, but they collected 18 offensive rebounds and dominated the glass 38-29.
“Couldn’t get a rebound,” Hopkins said. “We lost Jaden. We lost Hameir. And we just couldn’t get a rebound. Guys need to fight more. Bottom line.”
Hopkins lamented a 32-14 disparity in free-throw attempts.
“I think the foul line changed the trajectory of the game,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re just more aggressive than we are. I don’t know. But that happens. They went to the foul line a lot and that was the difference in the game.”
Utah converted 24 of 32 free throws while UW was 11 of 14 at the line.
“I don’t know, I have to go watch tape,” Hopkins said. “You just want things to be consistent that’s all. It just happens. Sometimes on the road that happens.”
Coaches questioning the officiating appears to be the theme of the season in the Pac-12, which has issued three reprimands to coaches for criticizing the referees.
Still, the Huskies were their own worst enemy.
Washington was up 12 points (52-40) with 8:14 left and clung to a 56-50 lead entering the final five minutes against Utah (11-7, 2-4), which entered the game with a four-game losing streak.
The Huskies were ahead 62-55 when they lost Wright and McDaniels during a bizarre sequence that punctuated Washington’s late-game collapse.
Wright picked up his fifth foul on an offensive rebound while McDaniels hit Mikael Jantunen in the head and drew a technical foul — his fourth of the season — with 2:32 remaining.
Utah made four free throws to pull within three points and retained possession of the ball.
Seconds later, McDaniels collected his fifth foul contesting a Jones three-pointer. The Utah guard made two of three free throws to trim the Huskies’ lead to 62-61 with 2:04 left.
“I don’t think there’s anything going on. I just don’t know why the hell that play is made,” Hopkins said when asked about McDaniels’ propensity to collect technicals. “I don’t know. I don’t know if if it’s a game play. He’s the nicest guy in the league. I don’t get it. I don’t get it. But you just can’t make that play.”
After a layup from Stewart and RaeQuan Battle’s two free throws, Washington led 66-61 with 1:25 left.
That’s when Utah finished the game with six straight free throws on its final three possessions, including the go-ahead foul shots from Jones with 14.1 seconds left.
At the other end, UW’s final three trips consisted of a Jamal Bey turnover, Carter missing a 10-foot fadeaway jumper and Bey drawing an offensive foul with 0.8 seconds left.
“This one is hard to swallow because we had the game,” Hopkins said. “You can’t have self-inflicted wounds. You can’t hit a guy on the side of the head and expect to win. Our league is very difficult. We’ve got a lot of really good teams (and) coaches. You can’t give points away. You can’t give teams opportunities. Down the stretch we made a couple of turnovers, but for the most part we had control of the game.”