Nigel Williams-Goss isn’t used to this.
The Washington Huskies lost another winnable game Wednesday night, falling 78-71 to Oregon in Eugene. The defeat dropped the Huskies to 14-13 (6-8 Pac-12 and eighth in the conference) with four regular season games left.
The narrative was familiar for a UW team that again looked slightly over-matched as it stumbled to a 2-8 record away from Seattle. The Huskies kept it close, leading 39-36 after 20 minutes before fading in the second because of poor interior defense. UW allowed the Ducks to shoot 56.9 percent from the field and score 38 points in the paint.
Williams-Goss sounded irritated earlier in the week when he described his freshman year. It’s been nothing like the dominant run he enjoyed at Findlay Prep (Henderson, NV), a power that regularly ranks among the top high school teams in the country. He was a 2013 McDonald’s All-America, a 4.0 student, a point guard that won two national championships in four years. He was a player that never really had to deal with the adversity that comes with losing.
“We haven’t obviously been doing something that we need to do on the road,” he said this week. “(Romar’s) coached a lot longer than any of us have played in this conference, so he’s kind of been on both ends of the stick in terms of seeing different types of teams.
“If he says we need to be more mentally tough, I can’t argue with him because what we’re doing is not working.”
Williams-Goss knew well the winning formula before spurning an offer from Harvard to attend UW. His record in high school was 124-8.
The Huskies had eight losses by the middle of January.
“It’s been really tough on me,” he said. “Losing is not something I’ve ever been accustomed to, but these are life lessons that you have to learn.”
The freshman point guard learned a few more against Oregon.
His final stat line was respectable: 12 points (five of 12 shooting) with five assists and three turnovers in 34 minutes.
But his best move, a teardrop runner that he likes to toss up as he drives through the lane, wasn’t falling. Early in the second half, he shot one that uncharacteristically banged off the back rim. He smacked his hands together in a rare show of frustration. Like a pitcher who couldn’t find the arm angle on a curve ball, he didn’t have his “good stuff.”
Yet with about five minutes remaining, Williams-Goss nearly pulled the Huskies within three points via a transition layin. As he jumped, Oregon’s Johnathan Loyd positioned under him. The official signaled a charge as the ball went through the basket.
“It was a judgment call, and that’s what it is,” said Romar after, trying to hold back.
With a little more than a minute left, Williams-Goss missed a pull-up jumper that would have narrowed the Ducks lead to four.
The ball hit every part of the rim before falling off.
Despite it, he managed to nearly equal his season scoring average (13.3 points per game) and surpass his typical assist total (nearly four per game).
Since dropping a career-best 32 points in an 87-81 home win against Oregon State Jan. 25, he strung together a series of solid scoring outputs (11, 19, 15, 16, 12).
“I was talking to him at Colorado about how he’s gotten better since preseason to now,” said sophomore guard Andrew Andrews. “That’s something you’d expect from a player of his caliber. I don’t think he’ll hit a wall.”
Why no late-season slump?
“I have to say it’s preparation,” Williams-Goss said. “I feel like I watched a lot of film before the season started, had a lot of talks with former college players, the coaching staff here, and tried to get as much advice as I could to kind of try and stay away from that.”
In last week’s 72-59 home loss to Cal, Williams-Goss committed six turnovers. He’s done it two other times and coughed it up seven times in a non-conference win over Tulane.
When asked to pinpoint Williams-Goss’s weakness, coach Lorenzo Romar sighed as if he was being being forced to criticize a family member. Then came a pause, then an answer that said as much about UW’s thin roster as it did its emerging point guard.
“I think at times it’s just working through taking care of the ball. Nigel sees all this and sometimes he’s just getting on the same page as his teammate,” he said. “He’s a good playmaker. He’s going to continue to try and be aggressive.”
“When you look at freshman point guards, he’s done as well as any of them in our league,” Romar said. “Across the country, I don’t think there are a lot of point guards having a better year than he has as a freshman.”