SEATTLE – 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 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.
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 in attendance, they scored plenty, and they took good enough care of the ball. 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 in 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, 37-37, despite UW’s 50.0 percent effort from the field.
A big basket by Josh Hawkinson, six free throws by DaVonte Lacy and a missed 3-point attempt at the buzzer by UW helped seal WSU’s second consecutive road victory.
Iroegbu grabbed outlet passes and sped up the court, helping to guide the ball toward open shooters like forward Brett Boese, who made three 3s and scored 11 points, and sophomore guard Que Johnson, who hit 3-of-4 from long range.
When 7-foot center Jordan Railey left the game due to 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, a Curtis High alum and 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.
Speaking of: the Huskies (11-4, 0-3 in Pac-12) had a chance in the final seconds to scratch something out. Sophomore point guard Nigel 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 only 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-point attempt that caught the front of the rim and missed just before time expired.
“I didn’t have a good shot, so I got rid of it,” Williams-Goss said. “I tried to move it. And we just didn’t get a quality look.”
They had several of those earlier in the game and missed. And they gave up several that the Cougars made, despite entering the game ranked sixth nationally in field-goal percentage defense.
But they say panic is not yet on the agenda.
“Obviously, guys are upset,” he 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), and if you ask me, we’re good enough to win every single one of them. We rattled off 11 in a row to start the season. You take it game by game, who knows how it could finish?”
Better than this, they hope
PLAYER OF THE GAME – DaVonte Lacy scored 25 points for the Cougars, and made 7-of-7 from the free-throw line – including 6-of-6 in the final 35.7 seconds – to help WSU seal victory and fend off UW’s comeback attempt.
STAT OF THE GAME – The Cougars made 7-of-14 from 3-point range in the first half, a mark that helped them to a 37-37 halftime tie despite the Huskies shooting 50 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
IT WAS OVER WHEN – Mike Anderson’s 3-point attempt missed just before time expired. But Josh Hawkinson’s bucket-and-foul with 45.2 seconds left might have been the play of the game, because it gave WSU a four-point lead.
QUOTABLE – “You can name a bunch of reasons. But one night it’s one reason, another night it’s different. That means we’re not doing a good enough job. So, no excuses.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar on the Huskies’ losing streak
WHAT IT MEANS – After an 11-0 start, the Huskies’ season has gone sideways in a hurry. They’ve had too much of what Romar calls “slippage” defensively, and they’re not skilled enough offensively – especially as shooters – to overcome their defensive lapses. WSU is an improving team that plays with confidence. But this simply isn’t a game an NCAA tournament team should lose at home.
UP NEXT – Oregon State at Washington, 6 p.m. Thursday at Hec Edmundson Pavilion (Pac-12 Networks).
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple