After the Washington Huskies’ most discouraging loss of the season, their coach needed little time to search for the culprit.
Lorenzo Romar places most of the blame on one person for UW’s defensive lapses, for its four-game losing streak, for its 0-3 Pac-12 Conference record, for this 80-77 loss to Washington State on Saturday afternoon at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
“This,” Romar said, “is my fault. I have to make sure that this team is more ready to play for 40 minutes. Not seven, 15, 20, but for 40 minutes. It’s on me.”
This isn’t the same Huskies team that won its first 11 games en route to a No. 13 national ranking. They’ve lost all four of their games since — to Stony Brook, California, Stanford and now WSU — and have taken a few different paths to defeat in that span.
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Sometimes they don’t score. Sometimes they don’t guard. Sometimes they give the ball away. Or, as Romar summarized: “We guard. We get a lead. And then we fade. That’s been the pattern.”
On Saturday, with a season-high crowd of 7,595 watching, the Huskies scored plenty, and they took care of the ball well enough. But the Huskies yielded several wide-open 3-point shots in the first half — many in transition, with WSU point guard Ike Iroegbu forcing a furious pace — as WSU connected on 7 of 14 from beyond the arc.
“We’re not guarding like we did at the beginning of the season,” said sophomore point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who scored a game-high 30 points with seven rebounds, six assists and three steals. “There’s more breakdowns now than there were.”
The Cougars (8-7, 2-1 Pac-12) slowed in the second half and finished a pedestrian 9 for 24 from 3-point range. But they did enough damage in the first half to go into halftime tied at 37 despite UW’s 50 percent effort from the field.
A big basket by Josh Hawkinson, six free throws by DaVonté Lacy, a Curtis High graduate, and a 3-point miss at the buzzer by UW helped seal WSU’s second consecutive road win.
Iroegbu continually grabbed outlet passes and sped up the court, helping to guide the ball toward open shooters such as forward Brett Boese, who made three 3s and scored 11 points, and sophomore guard Que Johnson, who was 3 of 4 from long range.
When 7-foot center Jordan Railey left the game because of foul trouble, the Cougars replaced him with Boese, who started the second half and played 31 minutes. WSU’s four-shooter look confounded the Huskies in transition, and even led Romar to shift to a zone defense for a time.
“In the past, when we’ve gone zone, it’s made a difference for us,” Romar said. “Tonight, it didn’t.”
Junior guard Andrew Andrews said the Huskies were “losing a lot of the shooters in transition, and running too deep into the paint to get back to protect the rim. When they have four shooters on the court, we can’t do that. They were stretching the floor.”
And that was before Lacy, WSU’s top scorer, started to heat up. He finished with 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting, including a 7-for-7 effort from the free throw line that pushed the Cougars toward victory in the final minutes.
The Huskies (11-4, 0-3) had a chance in the final seconds to scratch something out. Williams-Goss carried UW to a brief, 68-67 lead with 4:31 to play after converting one of his many floaters, and scored 13 points in the game’s final 9:11.
But the Huskies couldn’t get stops. They trailed by one point with WSU inbounding the ball under UW’s basket with 45.8 seconds left. Out of a timeout, Iroegbu found Hawkinson, a Shoreline native, open on a backdoor cut — his third option on that play, Iroegbu said — and Hawkinson scored while being fouled by Mike Anderson.
He made the free throw to give WSU a 74-70 lead.
Williams-Goss responded with a floater. Lacy made two free throws. Williams-Goss responded with a floater. Lacy made two free throws. Anderson, at last, made a 3-pointer — one of just four makes for the Huskies in 19 attempts, a recurring problem for this team — before Lacy, again, made two free throws.
Trailing by three points with 15 seconds left, Williams-Goss first looked to drive for a quick two points. When his penetration was thwarted and the play broke down, he tossed left to Anderson, who hoisted an off-balance 3-pointer that caught the front of the rim just before time expired.
UW players say panic is not yet on the agenda.
“Obviously, guys are upset,” Williams-Goss said. “But we’re not down to the point where we’re fragmented or going our own ways. We know there’s still 15 games left of conference (play). ... We rattled off 11 in a row to start the season. You take it game by game, who knows how it could finish?”