They missed too many free throws in the first half, and one really big one at the end of the second. They didn’t make a field goal during a six-minute stretch in the second half. They got outrebounded. Again.
And if this season ends yet again without an NCAA tournament bid for the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team — a likely scenario now, it seems — add Thursday night’s 78-75 loss to California to the list of disappointments that turned the year from promising to exasperating.
“You don’t get a badge,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said, “for coming close.”
They were in this one. The score was tied at halftime. The Huskies led by a point with 12:33 to play, the blackout-themed crowd at Hec Edmundson Pavilion enjoying the back-and-forth tussle.
But California had the best player on the floor, star freshman Jaylen Brown, whom Romar described on Wednesday as “an athletic locomotive.” Brown proved as much on a number of occasions, driving and bulling and dunking his way to a game-high 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting. And he made a pair of important free throws with 24.3 seconds left to keep Cal ahead by two possessions.
Andrew Andrews made a 3-pointer to cut Cal’s lead to 76-75 with 5.1 seconds left, and Matisse Thybulle had a chance to tie the game after an inexplicable rebounding foul against Cal guard Jabari Bird put Thybulle on the line with 3.3 seconds remaining.
“I thought both were going in,” UW forward Marquese Chriss said.
But Thybulle missed the first, had to miss the second on purpose, and the Huskies couldn’t grab the rebound. A foul called against UW guard David Crisp sealed it.
California played better defense, limiting the Huskies to 10-for-36 shooting in the second half and 32.9 percent from the field overall. That number was particularly damaging for UW because it made only 25 of its 38 free-throw attempts, a number boosted by a 19-for-22 effort in the second half.
The Bears also enjoyed a 54-44 rebounding margin, the latest team to bash the Huskies on the glass.
“We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket tonight,” Romar said, noting that Cal’s 26-for-41 effort at the free-throw line made that category “a wash.”
At 15-11 overall and 7-7 in Pac-12 play, the Huskies, losers of four consecutive games, likely need to win their final four regular-season games — home against Stanford, at Oregon and Oregon State, and home against Washington State — to clinch an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament. That seems a particularly daunting task now.
“We’ve lost our margin for error, yes,” Romar said. “We have to bring it. We don’t have very many opportunities to go out and not come out on top right now in order to get an at-large bid. It’s still there, it’s still within sight, but we can’t make many mistakes.”
UW trailed 57-53 after a Chriss jumper with 6:53 to play, their first made field goal in more than six minutes. But Cal scored eight of the next 12 points — Brown had six of them — to take a 69-59 lead with 2:39 to play.
The Huskies didn’t go away, trimming the deficit to four points on Thybulle’s free throws with 1:05 to play. He made 6 of 6 at the line before his miss in the final seconds.
Dejounte Murray carried the Huskies early in the second half, scoring on a series of floaters and other shots at the rim. The freshman from Seattle finished with 14 points, a figure that would have been higher if he’d made more than four of his 10 free-throw attempts.
Andrews led UW with 18 points — though he was 3 of 14 from the field — and Chriss added 17.
“We did a lot that we were supposed to do, and we left, what, 12-plus free throws on the board?” Murray said. “You give us at least four or five of those, and it gives us the win. That’s the little things. Making free throws hurt us tonight.”
The Huskies found it difficult to slow Jordan Mathews, who came off the bench to score 18 points. Cal’s Tyrone Wallace, the senior guard still playing his way back from a hand injury, also scored 18 points in a reserve role.
The first half wrought frustration for both teams. Cal kept turning the ball over and missing shots. The Huskies kept missing free throws and allowing Cal to grab offensive rebounds.
So it figured that the score was tied, 34-34, at halftime. Washington shot 38.2 percent from the field and was 6-of-14 from the free-throw line before intermission, and Cal shot 34.5 percent and committed 11 turnovers. The Huskies took their largest lead at 32-26 with 2:09 left in the half, but Mathews scored six points during an 8-2 Bears run to even the score.
The Huskies tried, but failed, to do the same at the end of the game.
“There’s no choice,” Murray said, “but to move on.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME – Jaylen Brown, California’s star freshman forward, looked the part of a top-10 NBA draft pick. He scored 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting, grabbed five rebounds and made 8 of his 10 free-throw attempts — including two with 24.3 seconds remaining to keep California ahead by two possessions.
IT WAS OVER WHEN – Andrew Andrews’ last-second, full-court heave missed the mark.
STAT OF THE GAME – The Huskies made only 10 field goals in the second half on 36 attempts, and made only 6 of their 14 free-throw attempts in the first half.
QUOTABLE – “Every game is a must-win, but we really need this one.” — UW guard Dejounte Murray on Saturday’s game against Stanford
WHAT IT MEANS – The Huskies must win their final four regular-season games to feel good about their chances of making the NCAA tournament. They’ve now lost four consecutive games for the first time this season, and can’t seem to figure out how to get over the hump in close games.
UP NEXT – Stanford at Washington, 5 p.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Networks.