Losing to the Albanys and Colorado States of the college hoops world is one thing. Everyone takes a nap or two. But having a chance to put away the eighth-ranked Arizona Wildcats in front of a rollicking house and scuffing the outcome like school-yarders, well, it was capital-B Brutal.
The Washington Huskies had the season-repairing triumph upon them Thursday night. But with the final two possessions, senior captain Abdul Gaddy threw an alley-oop pass out of bounds, and then seven-foot Aziz N’Diaye wound up with a three-pointer from the corner — off an in-bounds plays. Dumb and dumber.
“Our guys are really hurting right now,” said coach Lorenzo Romar after UW’s fourth loss in a row, this one a 57-53 defeat after a 16-5 start to the game. “It’s going to take more than a couple of hours to get over.”
Actually, even the rest of the season won’t allow the Huskies to get over this one. Chances to play a quality Pac-12 team are so few, because the league remains mediocre. And to have a good team down at home, then fritter it away because of a lack of a clue simply is season-killing. Their chances for an NCAA tourney bid went from bad to worse.
The two players Washington relies upon most, senior point guard Abdul Gaddy and top scorer C.J. Wilcox, delivered the least. Dragged down by fouls and some relentless defense from Arizona’s Nick Johnson, Wilcox missed 12 of 16 shots and finished with 11 points. Gaddy had six of Washington’s 17 turnovers, the last one the inexplicable pass to Wilcox with 27 seconds left and Washington down 56-53. Wilcox was freed up by a screen and was open going to the hoop, but Gaddy threw the ball high and behind him out of bounds.
“It was a bad pass,” Gaddy said softly afterward. “If I hit him, he gets a layin.”
After an Arizona free throw made it a two-score differential, the Huskies tried foolishly to look for a 3-pointer (of which they missed 11 of 12) before Wilcox missed a drive as well as his own putback. But th loose ball went out of bounds to Washington.
After a timeout to discuss the play, Romar said a screen was set up to free Wilcox down the lane. Instead the ball went out to N’Diaye along the baseline, from where he went to the corner to shoot a ridiculous three — his first career trey attempt.
“That was not our intent to have Aziz shoot a three,” said Romar, seemingly embarrassed to have that appear like a plan. “I think C.J. was open in the middle, but maybe we were a little gun-shy about throwing it.”
Said a bewildered Gaddy, “I didn’t even know he was in the game. I thought we took him out.”
The Huskies started the game as if they meant to erase the three-game losing streak all at once. But Arizona countered the 16-5 streak with an identical 16-5 run of its own to get back into what everyone expected in the anticipated matchup between the rivals. The Wildcats down the stretch kept their poise despite the raucous gathering, while Washington unhinged.
“This is one of our hardest-earned wins of the season,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller. “This is one of the hardest places to come to. It’s not always a pretty game.”
It was, in fact, quite homely, each team having 17 turnovers and shooting under 37 percent. But Romar pointed out the difference, to him, was carelessness with the ball.
“They had a 20-10 differential in points off turnovers,” he said. “They had more ‘touchdown’ plays — breakaways that had no defense.”
One of those breakaways ended with Wilcox stopping it with a hard foul, his fourth, early in the second half. It was mind-boggling how such a vital player for the Huskies could lose track of the circumstances.
“I got lost in the game,” Wilcox said sheepishly. With another player, new starter Shawn Kemp Jr. (replacing Desmond Simmons) also saddled with three fouls, it was the last thing needed by a team with a seven-man rotation.
As with many UW opponents, Arizona set out to deny Wilcox, most of the handiwork done by Johnson.
“Nick is an elite defender,” Miller said. “He didn’t play particularly well in the first half. But as a sign of his growth and maturity, he was the best player on our team, and maybe in the country, in the second half.”
Certainly no one among the Huskies could offer argument. Even a fully engaged patronage of 8,535 wouldn’t dispute that when it came down to pressure plays in the final moments, the Huskies had multiple players tied for a distant second.