Handed a perfect opportunity to collect a signature victory, the Washington Huskies instead continued their East Coast woes by throwing away a winnable game against the University of Connecticut Saturday night. UW self-destructed in every way imaginable and fell to UConn, 61-53, at the XL Center in Hartford, in its last test before the start of Pac-12 play.
In perhaps Washington’s most disappointing defeat of the season, especially given the stature of the UConn program in recent seasons, UW missed numerous layups, shot dreadfully, continually threw the ball away, committed lame fouls, had three of their best players go MIA, and still had a chance to knock off UConn with six minutes to play.
Ultimately, UW couldn’t overcome its gaffes, and perhaps jet lag, losing for the first time in five games.
Washington fell to 8-5 overall in completing non-conference play. UW also lost for the fourth time without a win against UConn and dropped its 13th game in 15 outings in the Eastern time zone in the Lorenzo Romar era.
The big numbers: Washington shot just 29.7 percent from 2-point range (19-for-64, a low in the Romar era) and 23.5 percent (4-for-17) from beyond the arc. At one point, UW missed 25 of 28 shots. Worse, UConn, which entered the game ranked 317th in NCAA statistics in rebounding, outboarded the Huskies 40-36.
The three MIAs were leading scorer C.J. Wilcox, center Aziz N’Diaye and senior guard Abdul Gaddy.
Wilcox came in averaging 19.6 points and had scored 20 or more in three consecutive games and in seven of his last eight. But he went just 2-for-12 from the floor and finished with five points. He didn’t get his second field goal until 24 seconds remained in the game.
N’Diaye picked up two fouls in the first three and a half minutes, got his third five minutes later and didn’t score a point, going 0-for-3 from the floor. He collected just three rebounds and practically had zero role in the outcome.
Gaddy, who spent long stretches on the bench after picking up three fouls, scored just eight points and had three assists. In his place, freshman Andrew Andrews scored nine points and had four rebounds.
“It was just tough for us,” said Andrews. “We had open looks and they just weren’t going down for us. We’re better than that. We just have to get back to practice and (shots) will start falling. We came out in the first couple of minutes and hit a lot of shots, but some people got tired and then we missed the easy ones.”
“What a night for the ball not to go down,” lamented Romar. “We had opportunity after opportunity to knock the ball down, but we didn’t do it. We had some great opportunities that we didn’t cash in on.
“I wouldn’t have predicted that we would shoot the ball the way we did. I don’t know what to say.”
In attempting to explain Wilcox’s disappearance, Romar said, “Every now and then C.J.is going to have a game when the ball isn’t going in. When that happens, other guys have to step up and knock down shots, but it didn’t happen for us, obviously. But we’ll get a week’s rest and we’ll knock down more shots next week. It just didn’t happen for us today. We had our chances.”
The flow of the game was established early, when the game quickly devolved into a Ripleyesque (believe it or not) affair after Washington took a 14-10 lead on a Gaddy jumper. After N’Diaye drew a personal and a technical, UConn missed four consecutive free throws. The Huskies then went on an 11-2 run, which was followed by an 11-0 UConn run as UW went scoreless for more than six minutes.
N’Diaye picked up his third foul with eight minutes left and Gaddy collected his third two minutes later. Over the next four minutes, UW cranked up two airballs, committed six turnovers and missed a layup, but took a 24-23 lead with 4:59 to play when Scott Suggs, who led Washington with 15 points, nailed a three.
Washington, which missed three layups on one possession, trailed at the half 31-26 despite getting just three points from Wilcox and no points or rebounds from N’Diaye.
UConn went on a 7-0 run to start the second half and N’Diaye finally collected his first rebound 3½ minutes after intermission. UConn stretched its lead to 44-30 with 15 minutes to play, but Washington battled back to trail by six, 48-42, with 9:25 to go. Washington then went scoreless for more than four minutes before another late flurry.
Shawn Kemp Jr., receiving substantial minutes with N’Diaye in foul trouble, had his most productive game of the season, scoring nine points and collecting four rebounds.
“He played very well,” said Romar.
Desmond Simmons scored six points, but had another double-digit rebound game with 10.
Omar Calhoun led Connecticut with 14 points and Shabazz Napier had 13 for Connecticut, which won its seventh game at home without a loss.
Washington is idle until Jan. 5 when the Huskies begin conference play at Washington State. UW will then play at California Jan. 9 and at Stanford Jan. 12 before returning to Alaska Airlines Arena Jan. 16 for the Pac-12 home opener against Colorado.
There’s a real lack of an inside presence in the starting lineup IMO beyond N’Diaye. Based on tonight’s game Kemp should be considered being elevated to the starting lineup. That might open up opportunities for the shooting game which was horrible. Another game that was winnable for the Dawgs but they couldn’t get over that hump. Really needed Gaddy to step it up here and it didn’t happen.
Kemp was the starter until he was hurt. He’ll be in there. Romar thinks he’s a difference maker. Hard to figure the absence of heart in Wilcox/Gaddy.