SEATTLE — Lorenzo Romar is disappointed, and it’s showing.
You can see it in the eyes of the Washington Huskies men’s basketball coach. You can hear it in his voice as he speaks with reporters after one of his team’s most frustrating performances in a season marked by inconsistency.
All losses hurt. This one seems to have hurt a little more.
California is better than Washington, and so it was on Saturday at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, where an announced crowd of 7,124 watched as the Golden Bears erased a 12-point, first-half deficit and subsequently pulled away for a 72-59 victory.
But it’s the way the Huskies gave this one away that will most bother Romar, who observed afterward that “it was there for the taking, and we didn’t take it.”
It’s the first home loss of the Pac-12 Conference season for Washington (14-12, 6-7), which returns to the road next week — a place where UW has struggled this season — for a pair of games against Oregon and Oregon State.
Most of the Huskies’ problems are mental, according to Romar. So the coach was visibly frustrated while speaking of turnovers, and of mental lapses that led to more mental lapses that led to more turnovers, and more easy baskets for the opponent.
“I don’t know if you can do it in three days,” Romar said, “but we have to have a mental adjustment fast before we get out on that road.”
The Huskies looked plenty well-adjusted in the first 14 minutes against the Golden Bears, who defeated UW by 26 points a month ago in Berkeley, Calif.
Washington raced to a 27-15 lead, benefiting from aggressive play by point guard Nigel Williams-Goss. The Huskies also received a strong early shooting performance from sophomore guard Andrew Andrews, who played all of five minutes in Wednesday night’s win over Stanford.
Andrews made his first three attempts from 3-point range, the last two of which were made possible by offensive rebounds.
The Huskies were guarding, the Bears were missing shots, and UW looked like the same team that won its first five Pac-12 games at Hec Ed — until it didn’t.
Washington began giving the ball away, and Cal began getting easy baskets, scoring 14 points off 10 first-half turnovers by the Huskies.
Cal went on a 17-0 run before UW stopped it with senior guard C.J. Wilcox’s first basket of the game. Bears guard Justin Cobbs followed by dribbling rather easily to the rim and converting a layup before the halftime buzzer.
The Bears (17-8, 8-4) led, 34-29, at halftime. Given the way the Huskies collapsed during the final six minutes of the first half, it felt like a larger margin.
In the middle of Cal’s run, Romar said, “I looked up and said, ‘We’re not playing very well,’ and I looked at the scoreboard — we’re still up eight at that point. But at that point we got down on ourselves, and we weren’t able to recover.”
They played, Romar said, as if they were on the road. For a team that is 1-6 in
Pac-12 games away from home this season, that is a damning truth.
“We knew when we were huddled up that we had to limit our turnovers and stop the little things we did on the road, or else we were going to get the same result,” said Andrews, who tied a career high with 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “We weren’t able to do that today.”
The second half was not much better. Cal slowly built a 13-point lead, and even when UW scored eight consecutive points to trim that lead to five, the Huskies couldn’t quite break through. Cal’s lead never dipped below six points in the final 10:21.
Part of that was the Bears’ ability to contain Wilcox, who tied a season low with eight points and did not make a 3-pointer.
As a team, the Huskies shot just 4-for-21 from beyond the arc and made only 35.9 percent of their field-goal attempts.
Romar asked Wilcox at halftime to be more aggressive. But he finished just 4-for-12, and he didn’t have much help outside of Andrews.
“It’s tough for me because I don’t want to force the issue,” said Wilcox, who was often defended by more than one player. “I feel like that’s what I have to do to be aggressive.”
But the blame for this one extends to everyone who played.
“It wasn’t just C.J.,” Romar said. “We just mentally … we didn’t take care of the ball. We didn’t guard. We didn’t make shots. … C.J. has, and is having, a heck of a year for us. We need to, as a team, be able to step up.”
Precious little time remains to achieve that goal.
HUSKIES GAME RECAP
PLAYER OF THE GAME — California guard Tyrone Wallace scored 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and had four assists, a blocked shot, a steal and only one turnover in 34 minutes. That’s a full stat line. Senior forward Richard Solomon added 18 points and seven rebounds, and made 8 of his 11 field-goal attempts.
IT WAS OVER WHEN — Cal’s end-of-half run was pretty demoralizing, but the Huskies did cut a 13-point deficit to five midway through the second half. But when Ricky Kreklow extended the lead to nine points with a deep 3-pointer with 5:59 to play, this game felt like it was over.
STAT OF THE GAME — California scored 19 points in the final 6:21 of the first half. The Huskies scored two points in that span.
QUOTABLE — “Individually, mentally, we’ve got to make sure we decide that mentally, don’t worry about anyone else. Each to a man can maintain that mental focus throughout the game, especially now that we’re going on the road.”—UW coach Lorenzo Romar
WHAT IT MEANS — If even a shred of hope existed that UW could put together a big winning streak to make its case for NCAA tournament inclusion, it is almost certainly gone now. As Romar eluded to afterward, this game was an illustration of the Huskies’ inability to re-focus when things start to go wrong. They haven’t been strong enough, mentally, to snap out of stretches of poor play … on the road. That they couldn’t do it at home, either, has to be particularly disheartening.
NEXT UP — Washington at Oregon, 6 p.m., Wednesday, Pac-12 Networks.