The Washington Huskies men’s basketball team is last in the Pac-12 Conference for a good reason:
There isn’t a 13th place.
The final home game of the regular season Friday night at Hec Ed hit the high point pre-game, saying good-bye to Sam Timmins and the other seniors. The temptation was strong to end things there. But Washington State did come all the way from Pullman. Wouldn’t have looked looked good to call it off.
So the Huskies committed to the exercise. They did as they have done most of the past two months: Countering stretches of competence with deep swoons of ineptitude to produce a numbingly familiar outcome.
The Cougars (15-14, 6-10) were just mediocre enough to allow the element of contest to linger into the final seconds before prevailing, 78-74 (box). Since it was the Cougars’ first conference road win of the season, they thought it was a big deal.
Just after the end of the game, Cougars guard Isaac Bonton set the ball down on center court and stomped on the giant “W.” Moments before, WSU freshman guard Noah Williams, from Seattle’s O’Dea High School, standing at the free throw line before making the two clinchers, turned toward Huskies partisans and said, “This is my city.”
So it was, although it also belonged to C.J. Elleby, former star from Seattle’s Cleveland High who led the game with 21 points.
The Huskies (13-16, 3-13), having been swept by the Cougars, who were on a four-game losing streak, figured to be grimly disappointed. Not so.
“We’re not disappointed,” said Naz Carter sternly. “We’re getting ready for the (conference) tournament.”
Well, that explains things.
All this time, the Huskies have been laying in the weeds, plotting to win four games in four days in Las Vegas to secure the league’s guaranteed berth in the NCAA tourney. It probably wouldn’t be the longest long shot in Vegas history, but it’s likely the casinos would blink dark for a few seconds as the universe contemplated implosion.
The 2019-20 Huskies are one of the most astonishing single-year failures in Seattle sports history, given the program’s two-year uptick under coach Mike Hopkins and the hype surrounding his hire of of some prodigious, mostly out-of-state talents. After a blowout win at Cal last week, the Huskies at least offered a flicker of a return to reasonableness.
Instead, Hopkins agreed that this may have been the Huskies’ most disappointing loss.
“We’ve just been that team that shows so many good signs, and then we just . . . you’re looking for that consistency,” he said. “You’re looking for that not mental lapse. You’re looking for that focus.
“We’re taking real baby steps, we’re not taking those significant steps that we need to win these games.”
Even baby steps are hard to come by, at least after losing point guard Quade Green following a 10-2 start that including a stunning defeat of Baylor and a stout game against Gonzaga.
This would be a good time to release Green’s ghost to whatever cosmos takes NCAA academic ineligibility cases.
Green’s flunk-out doesn’t influence free throws. It has no impact on wide-open threes. It can’t alter the zone defense’s ability to stop 13-foot jumpers in the lane.
The Huskies had a whopping 38 free throws, and made 23. The Huskies had 16 treys, and made three. The Cougars, despite starting four guards and one 6-9 guy, owned the paint, winning the boards, 34-31, and second-chance points, 13-8, while shooting 50 percent from the floor. The Cougars made 21 turnovers, nearly double their conference-best 11.5 a game, and still won.
And they were led by two guys from Seattle high schools against a roster that includes seven guys 6-foot-9 or taller. It wasn’t just a loss, it was a mortification.
A sequence that took 1:17 epitomized the futility of the evening and the season.
The Huskies woke up from a first-half slumber and a 41-28 intermission deficit with a 15-3 run to lead, 51-50 with 9:36 left, capped by a thunder dunk from reserve Jamal Bey. He followed with a ferocious shot block but couldn’t shut up about it. The subsequent technical foul produced two free throws from Isaac Bonton that began the cavalcade of despair.
Still possessing the ball after the T, Elleby hit a three from the corner to complete a five-point play. In the next two possessions, the Huskies had an offensive foul and a miss, which Bonton answered each time with a three.
The Cougars found themselves up 61-51 with 8:19 left and the Huskies, despite a late rally, were done.
“That was the game,” Hopkins said. “You can’t give up five-point plays.”
See? Hopkins still isn’t so shattered that he doesn’t know things.
Imagine how thrilled he’ll be when he finds out his players’ plan all along is to run the table in Vegas.