The Washington Huskies achieved a rather undesirous piece of basketball history here on Sunday night, each defensive breakdown and ill-advised jumpshot marking progress toward this most ignominious record.
Failure is not an unfamiliar feeling for those UW men’s basketball supporters whose interest predates Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy and Isaiah Thomas. Between 1985-86 and 2002-03, UW managed only six winning seasons. The low point came in 1993-94, when first-year coach Bob Bender oversaw an outfit that won only five games overall and three in league play.
Which brings us to Sunday’s game against the Washington State Cougars at Beasley Coliseum, where the Huskies plowed through rock bottom yet again, surging to a low not experienced by any team in the program’s history.
Not that ’94 team. Not any of Andy Russo’s teams. Not even Lynn Nance’s.
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Ten. The losing streak is at 10 games now, this 79-71 defeat the latest in what turned long ago into an embarrassment of a season. The Huskies haven’t won since Jan. 18, and have now lost 12 consecutive conference road games dating to last season, one loss shy of tying a school record in that category, too.
Their best player, star freshman Markelle Fultz, again had to sit out due to injury. His sore knee — the one that kept him out of games at Colorado and Utah two weeks ago, before he returned to play last week against Arizona State and Arizona — apparently did not respond properly to a week of rest, and so the Pac-12’s leading scorer watched this loss from the bench.
UW coach Lorenzo Romar said he isn’t sure when (or if) Fultz might return, and seemed less confident that Fultz will play again this season than he did the last time the star guard sat out.
“I’m not telling you he’s playing, I’m not telling you he’s not playing. We just don’t know at this point,” Romar said. “I don’t know any other way to answer it other than, I don’t know. I can’t tell you.”
Not that it really matters. The Huskies have two regular-season games remaining — at No. 5 UCLA and USC — before traveling to Las Vegas for a likely first-round exit in the Pac-12 tournament, and they obviously don’t win when Fultz plays, anyway.
They at least came close against WSU (13-15, 6-10 Pac-12), which needed a 19-7 run in the final 5:18 to avoid what would have been an inexplicably bad loss before a season-high crowd of 5,003 on senior night.
Freshman guard Carlos Johnson, starting in place of Fultz, led the Huskies with 17 points. Noah Dickerson scored 16 points with 13 rebounds before leaving due to what Romar termed a “basic ankle sprain.” David Crisp scored 14 points in 38 minutes. The Huskies led by seven points early in the second half and by four with 5:30 to play, and played for a while like a team capable of winning a basketball game.
“For a long stretch of the game,” Romar said, “we played well enough to win.”
Then, they didn’t. The Cougars shot 64.3 percent from the field in the second half, their four seniors — Josh Hawkinson, Charles Callison, Ike Iroegbu and Conor Clifford — each scoring in double-figures and making important plays in the final minutes.
Hawkinson, who led all scorers with 22 points, made a 3-pointer with 2:46 to play that put WSU ahead by five points, then scored a putback that made it 71-64 with 2:05 remaining.
The Huskies (9-19, 2-14) answered with a pair of baskets by Matisse Thybulle and Malik Dime, but WSU freshman Malachi Flynn countered with a long two-point jumper, and UW didn’t score again until it trailed by nine points.
“We didn’t do a good job of two things in the second half — we didn’t keep them out of the paint, and our shot selection at times was questionable,” Romar said. “That’s just not a good combination. I thought we did a lot of things well. But we couldn’t finish it.”
They never finish it. The Huskies have led or been tied at halftime in six of their 16 Pac-12 games this season, and have now lost five of those games. At 2-14 in Pac-12 play, they are guaranteed the worst conference record of Romar’s 15-year tenure, and must win one of their games next week to avoid posting their worst conference record since the league initiated an 18-game schedule in 1979.
“The boys, we just know we’ve got to work even harder,” Johnson said. “It’s been a long season. Some guys are tired, but we’re going to bounce back, man. I’ve still got faith in us regardless of the record, so I think we can still do it.”
Next year, maybe.
Game in review
Player of the game: In his final collegiate home game, Shoreline native Josh Hawkinson led all scorers with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He made two big shots in the final minutes to expand WSU’s lead and put the game out of reach, and also added seven rebounds in 33 minutes.
Play of the game: With the shot-clock winding down, WSU guard Malachi Flynn stepped back and shot a long 2-point jumper that he made to give the Cougars a 73-68 lead with 40.2 seconds to play. The Huskies never threatened after that.
Stat of the game: After making only 12-of-30 from the field in the first half, WSU made 18-of-28 — 64.3 percent — in the second half.
Quotable: “If we play this game five weeks ago without Markelle, I don’t think we’d have had a chance as much. I thought our guys played right in a lot of ways, so whether Markelle plays or not, we have to come out and play together and execute and play hard. I thought for a lot of the game, most of the game, that’s what we did tonight.” — UW coach Lorenzo Romar
What it means: It means the Huskies have lost 10 consecutive games for the first time in school history, and that they still can’t win without Markelle Fultz.
Up next: Washington at No. 5 UCLA, 8 p.m. Wednesday (Fox Sports 1)