This is it.
For many teams, the Pac-12 tournament represents an opportunity to atone for their regular-season misgivings, a chance for – if we’re being frank – undeserving teams to play their way into the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Washington, though, cannot afford such lofty aspirations. For the Huskies, the tournament simply offers one, final chance to win a game, something they haven’t done since Jan. 18, 12 consecutive losses now in their wake.
Their last opportunity to end the streak comes at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, when they will face the No. 6-seed USC Trojans – a team that has already defeated UW twice, including Saturday’s regular-season finale in Los Angeles – in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament at the new T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas strip.
And they will do so without their best player, freshman guard Markelle Fultz, who will again watch from the bench due to a knee injury.
At 9-21 overall and 2-16 in Pac-12 play, the Huskies recently completed the worst conference season in their history, and enter this week’s tournament as the No. 11 seed, ahead of only 12th-seeded Oregon State. UW’s current 12-game losing streak is the longest in school history by three games, and the Huskies are trying to avoid their first single-digit overall victory total since the 1993-94 season, when they finished 5-22 (but still won three conference games).
In fact, this season has been so miserable for the Huskies – and became that way so long ago – that coach Lorenzo Romar, in a departure from his usual philosophy, has been playing up this week’s tournament to his players for some time.
“Once it kind of seemed that mathematically, you weren’t going to have a chance to be in the NCAA tournament just as an at-large bid, we focused on (the Pac-12 tournament),” Romar said. “So it’s something we’ve been focusing on for quite some time.”
It could be a short stay, though, particularly with Fultz still sidelined due to a sore knee. Fultz, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, has missed five of UW’s last seven games – and the last three in a row – and was scheduled to be reexamined on Monday. But a UW spokesperson said Tuesday afternoon that Fultz has been ruled out of Wednesday’s contest, meaning the projected No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft has almost certainly played his final collegiate game.
Without Fultz, the Huskies lost, 74-58, on Saturday at USC in their regular season finale. They committed 16 turnovers, one fewer than the 17 they committed in an 82-74 home loss to USC in early February (Fultz played in that game).
“Both of the times we played this team, it’s been some of the highest turnover games we’ve had,” said UW guard Matisse Thybulle, who scored 19 points against the Trojans last weekend. “And Coach Romar talked to us about even just straight steals – not us kicking the ball out of bounds, but them stealing the ball and getting run-outs. They forced us into a lot of those the last two times we played them.”
In fact, USC scored 36 points off two turnovers in those two games – 18 in each – and Washington’s inability to take care of the ball allowed the Trojans to erase an early 10-point deficit in Saturday’s game.
The Huskies need better play from sophomore guard David Crisp, who has taken over the primary ball-handling duties in Fultz’s absence. Crisp, a Tacoma native and the team’s second-leading scorer, played only 18 minutes Saturday due to foul trouble and still committed four turnovers without scoring a point. One game prior, at UCLA, he shot 3-for-17 from the field and missed all eight of his 3-point attempts.
Conversely, UW would benefit from sophomore forward Noah Dickerson continuing his recent scoring trend. Dickerson scored a career-best 27 points against USC Saturday, had 23 against UCLA with 15 rebounds, and is averaging 16.7 points and 8.4 rebounds in the Huskies’ past nine games.
But mostly, they need to defend better than they have throughout almost all of this season (particularly as it pertains to USC guard Jordan McLaughlin and the pick-and-roll), and shoot the ball – and avoid giving it to the other team – better than they have throughout almost all of Pac-12 play.
“We need to be able to finish these games,” Dickerson said, “and be the last team to have the last run.”
And make sure this isn’t their last game.
WASHINGTON (9-21, 2-16 Pac-12) VS. USC (23-8, 10-8)
8:30 p.m., T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM
All-time series: USC leads the series 73-71.
Statistics for 2016-17:
11 Jordan McLaughlin, G (6-1, jr.): 13.0 ppg, 5.5 apg.
22 De’Anthony Melton, G (6-4, fr.): 8.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg.
0 Shaqquan Aaron, G (6-7, R-so.): 8.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg.
25 Bennie Boatwright, F (6-10, so.): 14.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg.
4 Chimezie Metu, F (6-11, so.): 14.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg.
1 David Crisp, G (6-0, so.): 13.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg.
23 Carlos Johnson, G (6-3, fr.): 5.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg.
4 Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, so.): 10.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg.
15 Noah Dickerson, F (6-8, so.): 12.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg.
33 Sam Timmins, F (6-10, R-fr.): 3.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg.
Scouting report: ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects USC will be one of the final four teams to make the 68-team NCAA Tournament field, so the Trojans might fall off the bubble if they were to lose to 11th-seeded UW. … These teams played each other just three days ago in Los Angeles, with USC winning 74-58 after UW trailed by only three points with 12 minutes to play. Turnovers and defensive lapses hurt the Huskies down the stretch, as they gave the ball away 16 times and allowed USC to shoot 58.7 percent from the field. UW’s Dickerson and Thybulle combined for 46 points on 16-for-25 shooting, but their teammates managed only 12 points on 5-for-25 shooting. … USC’s McLaughlin attacked the rim relentlessly on pick-and-roll plays, leading the Trojans with 21 points while handing out nine assists, a few of them easy lobs to Chimezie Metu for dunks. … The Huskies are 0-5 without leading scorer Fultz, who will miss Wednesday’s game due to a sore knee.
Pac-12 tournament preview
All games televised on Pac-12 Network unless noted:
Gm 1: No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 Stanford, 12:10 p.m.
Gm 2: No. 5 California vs. No. 12 Oregon St., approx. 2:41 p.m.
Gm 3: No. 7 Colorado vs. No. 10 Washington State, 6:10 p.m.
Gm 4: No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Washington, approx. 8:41 p.m.
Gm 5: Winner 1 vs. No. 1 Oregon, 12:10 p.m.
Gm 6: Winner 2 vs. No. 4 Utah, approx. 2:41 p.m.
Gm 7: Winner 3 vs. No. 2 Arizona, 6:10 p.m.
Gm 8: Winner 4 vs. No. 3 UCLA, approx. 8:41 p.m. (ESPN)
Winner 5 vs. Winner 6, 6:10 p.m.
Winner 7 vs. Winner 8, approx. 8:41 p.m. (ESPN)
Championship game, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
1. Oregon (27-4, 16-2): Top-seeded Ducks are riding a six-game winning streak, and rank top 25 nationally in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com.
2. Arizona (27-4, 16-2): Several injuries and a lengthy suspension for star guard Allonzo Trier forced the Wildcats to play at less than full strength this season, yet they still tied for the regular-season championship. If they defend well, they can (and should) beat anybody.
3. UCLA (28-3, 15-3): Bruins have the nation’s most efficient offense with six players who average double-figure scoring. If they continue their hot shooting, they simply have to guard at a so-so level to win the tournament title.
KEEP AN EYE ON
4. Utah (20-10, 11-7): Hasn’t been a great season for coach Larry Krystkowiak’s squad, but Utes have played competitive games against UCLA and Oregon, and have enough shooters to beat anybody.
5. California (19-11, 10-8): Bears lost five of six to end the regular season, a collapse that cost them a first-round bye. But they still have Ivan Rabb. They still defend well. And they’re capable of an upset or two.
6. USC (23-8, 10-8): Beat UCLA earlier this season. That’s reason enough to think the Trojans can make some noise.
7. Colorado (18-13, 8-10): After beginning Pac-12 play 0-7, the Buffaloes are now one of the league’s hottest teams. The smart money isn’t with them, but worse teams have won conference tournaments.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT
8. Arizona State (14-17, 7-11): Sun Devils shoot well enough from 3-point range to make better teams nervous but lack of size. And thier depth won’t allow for a four-day run.
9. Stanford (14-16, 6-12): Reid Travis is a headache for opposing defenses, but the Cardinal doesn’t have nearly enough firepower around him.
10. Washington State (13-17, 6-12): Cougars were able to hang with teams like Arizona and UCLA for a little while this season, but they just don’t play good enough defense to hope to win four games in four days this week.
11. Washington (9-21, 2-16): Huskies haven’t won a game in nearly 50 days, and have done nothing recently to indicate that’s about to change — especially if star guard Markelle Fultz (sore knee) doesn’t play.
12. Oregon State (5-26, 1-17): Quite possibly the worst power-conference team in the country this season. All that needs to be said.