Thursday’s Hec Ed contest between the University of Washington men’s basketball team and the California Golden Bears looked like a race between two motorists frantically trying to start their cars to escape an approaching storm.
The Huskies were the more rattled, losing 78-75, their fourth in a row, despite numerous chances in the late going. The most critical were two missed free throws by Matisse Thybulle with 0:04 remaining. The Huskies were 4-of-17 from beyond the arc, their third-worst three-point shooting performance in conference play.
“We have lost our margin for error (to make the tournament),” said coach Lorenzo Romar. “We don’t have very many opportunities to not come out on top right now and get an at-large bid. It’s still there, it’s still in sight, but we can’t make little mistakes.”
“I thought we did a lot of things tonight that allow you to win a ball game . . . but we missed a lot of easy shots.”
If it weren’t for Andrew Andrews, Thybulle wouldn’t have had an opportunity to take his free throws. Down 10 with 2:39 remaining, Andrews hit a pair of three-pointers with under a minute to play to bring Washington (15-11, 7-7 Pac-12) to within one with 0:08 remaining. After California’s (18-8, 8-5 Pac-12) Tyrone Wallace converted his first but missed his second free throw for a 77-75 lead, Thybulle was fouled in pursuit of the rebound.
As the first shot released from Thybulle’s hands, it seemed like the 61.3 percent shooter, six-for-six to that point, had it, but the ball rolled around the rim and came back out, leaving the Huskies out of good options. After his second miss, Cal added another free throw, leaving Andrews with a fruitless 60-foot heave at the buzzer.
Still, Thybulle’s shot was not what left the Huskies by the side of the road. Eight missed first-half free throws were decisive, as well as a slow night from Dejounte Murray, who has hit five shots or fewer from the field in Washington’s past four games.
Murray defended his recent performances, saying that he can still get the job done.
“I feel like I never lost my swagger,” he said. “A lot of people say that kind of stuff. The media expect me to score 30 points a game, and call that ‘swagger,’ but I don’t know what it is.”
Murray’s recent struggles are not the sole reason the Huskies are losing. Problems with big men persist. Jalen Brown, a big man, led the Golden Bears with 23 points. A forward has been the leading scorer each of the losses.
Still, the Huskies did plenty right. They blocked eight shots, and won the turnover battle 16-7. They were outrebounded 54-44, but they came away with more offensive rebounds than the Golden Bears, despite California having two seven-footers.
Washington even largely avoided foul trouble, one of its greatest weaknesses. Marquese Chriss, who has fouled out 12 times, didn’t pick up his first foul until 6:43 remained in the first half.
This time, marksmanship betrayed the Huskies. Washington shot 32.9 percent from the field, and was 2-of-15 from three-point range before Andrews drained the late threes.
“I’m tired of saying ‘we’ve got to move on,’” said Murray. “But there’s no choice. I feel like we’ll be fine. We’ve just got to stay together in these moments, because we’ve already had these conversations.”
If they can shock themselves back into shooting consistently, the Huskies can get back in the race.
In Romar’s words, the Huskies have to get over the hump, but they have only four games left. Washington hosts Stanford at 5 p.m. Saturday (Pac-12 Networks).
Washington’s eight blocks helped them breakthe school single-season record of 179. The Huskies have 183 . . . Junior Malik Dime made his first career start, scoring Washington’s first six points, finishing with eight points and three blocks.