SEATTLE – Much like the Washington Huskies’ numerous comeback attempts Thursday, Darnell Gant’s game-tying 3-point try with less than two seconds remaining fell short.
And with those failed attempts, the Huskies’ chances of winning the Pacific-12 Conference regular season title may also come up short after losing to California, 69-66, at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Cal took a three-point lead with 8.2 seconds to play when sophomore guard Justin Cobbs, the only player to miss a free throw all night for the Bears, made one of two foul shots.
Cal coach Mike Montgomery called a timeout to set up his defense. But the Bears didn’t foul. Montgomery doesn’t believe in that philosophy.
“You always think about it, but it’s not something I do,” he said. “If you are going to do that, you have to practice it. We talked about it. But it’s something we hadn’t worked on.”
Instead, the Bears let Abdul Gaddy take the inbounds pass, dribble hard to the top of the key and drop it off to the trailing Gant, who had a wide-open look.
“I knew I was going to be open,” Gant said. “I took the shot with confidence. It came up short.”
It was a good play in theory and execution. Gant, however, was 0-for-8 from the field and 0-for-5 from the 3-point range before the shot. And like the rest of his shots all night, it didn’t go down.
So why have him shoot it in that situation?
“The last game we had he hit three 3s. He’s shooting over 40 percent going into this game from the 3-point line,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Just because someone is having an off night, if you look at the body of work that they’ve put forth, you take your chance with them. He’s shooting a pretty good percentage.”
So did Romar think it was in when it left Gant’s hand?
“I didn’t know,” he said. “I thought it definitely had a chance. When his feet are set and nobody is guarding him, I feel pretty confident they are going in.”
The fact that Gant took the last shot surprised Cal. The Bears were expecting Terrence Ross, who had buried three second half 3-pointers, to take the last shot.
“We thought it was going to be for him,” said Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez, who was guarding Ross. “We were surprised.”
The Bears knew Gant was struggling.
“Gant hadn’t hit one yet,” said Cal’s Harper Kamp, who was supposed to guard Gant. “But he can make that shot. They made a good play and got a clean look. We just got lucky it didn’t go in.”
And the Bears weren’t going to let Ross get that shot.
“We had Jorge on Ross and he wasn’t going let Ross catch it and shoot,” Montgomery said.
The failure at the end was a final frustrating moment for Washington (11-7 overall, 4-2 Pac-12) in a night full of them. It started with their execution and concentration in the first half.
“I thought we played hard, but not with the concentration we needed,” Romar said.
Washington came out sluggish in the first half and fell behind 35-25, shooting 34.5 percent from the field (10-for-29) and 1-of-8 from 3-point range.
“We came out really lethargic, dead and slow,” Ross said. “Everything that could go wrong in the first half, kind of did.”
Was it cabin fever from the cold weather that cancelled school, shut down Seattle and limited the announced crowd of 9,591 to about 5,000 people?
“Was it a snow day against Washington State?” Romar said of the second sluggish start for his team in a row. “We are playing at home, man. We are playing at home. They’re from California. They never see the snow. You think it would have affected them. We just dug ourselves a hole.”
The Huskies continually tried to crawl out of that hole in the second half. But every time they reached the cusp of doing so, Cal extended the lead.
Washington seemed on the verge of a breakthrough midway through the second half. In the midst of a 9-2 run, Gaddy, who had scored five of those nine points, drove for the lane for a sure layup, which would have cut the lead to 47-44. But the ball rolled off the front of the rim, and Cal advanced it up the floor for a transition basket from Gutierrez. Instead of cutting the lead to three points, it was back to seven.
Three minutes later, Washington again fought back. Aziz N’Diaye scored on a bucket inside and with Cal daring him to shoot from the outside, Wroten sank a 3-pointer to spur another 9-2 run that cut it to 55-51
Once again, the Huskies got no closer. N’Diaye was whistled for an over the back call and Romar exploded on the side line drawing a technical foul. Cal made all four free throws in the sequence and pushed the lead back to eight.
“He just called it,” Romar said of the technical.
Against Washington State, much was made about Romar drawing a technical to fire up his team and spur a comeback. But he placed little stock in that being the key for victory against WSU and it being the failure against Cal.
“If that was the reason the other night, it should have been the reason tonight,” Romar said. “You never know. I don’t think it had any impact.”
Ross led the Huskies with 15 points and five rebounds. N’Diaye chipped in with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Wroten added 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting, while Gaddy added 12 points.
Cal (16-4, 6-1) was led by Allen Crabbe, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Walk-on big man Robert Thurman scored 16 points off the bench. Gutierrez finished with nine points, eight boards and seven assists.