LOS ANGELES – With senior forward Shawn Kemp Jr. already ruled out of Saturday night’s game at USC due to a concussion, the already-struggling Washington Huskies knew their matchup with the Pac-12’s last-place team would not be easy.
It got even more difficult when they learned that star point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, the team’s leading scorer, would also have to sit out with a sprained ankle.
That’s how it’s been for the Huskies this season with injuries and defections – if they don’t have bad luck, they don’t have any at all.
So it was a particularly damaging development that Kemp and Williams-Goss had to sit and watch, dressed in sweatsuits, as the Huskies languished yet again in this ugly 70-55 loss at the Galen Center to a weak, shorthanded USC team that had won only twice since Dec. 30.
But UW coach Lorenzo Romar was not interested in excuses afterward. Not after the sloppy, uninspired performance his team put forth during the two hours prior.
“Tonight, the way this outcome was, had nothing to do with Nigel Williams-Goss or Shawn Kemp being out,” Romar said. “Not the way we played. There were mistakes that we made out there tonight that we should know how to execute in our sleep, with the season almost being over. And we didn’t do it at all. Obviously maybe the guys that didn’t play could come in and put a Band-Aid over some of the things we were doing wrong, and compensate for our mistakes, but that was all on us.”
“Where do I start? A whole variety of missed defensive coverages,” Romar said. “And I’m not talking about something we just worked on the last two days in a scout. I’m talking about things we’ve been working on since October that we did not execute tonight.”
The Huskies (15-13, 4-12 in Pac-12) return home from this nightmarish road trip bruised and twice beaten, now all but assured of finishing no better than 11th in the final Pac-12 standings, and in need of a victory next week over either Colorado or Utah to avoid the worst conference record of Romar’s 13-year tenure at the school.
Without Williams-Goss, the engine of their offense, and Kemp, their best interior scoring threat, the Huskies’ offense consisted too often of several passes before a 3-point attempt that usually missed – the Huskies made only 9-of-28 from beyond the arc, a big reason why they shot just 29.7 percent from the field.
“Those guys are a core part of our team,” said junior guard Quevyn Winters, “so it was tough being out there without those guys.”
Junior guard Andrew Andrews led the Huskies with 19 points, and Winters, a reserve guard, chipped in a career-best 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting.
But everyone else struggled. The first half was as dreadful as might be expected between two teams occupying the bottom spots in the Pac-12 standings. Washington shot 27.6 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, a brick-fest salvaged only by 10 points from Winters.
USC (11-18, 3-14) wasn’t much better, making only 11 of its 35 attempts, but a 6-0 spurt to close the half gave the Trojans a 27-22 halftime lead.
And a 15-5 run to begin the second half made it 42-27 with 14:50 to play. The Huskies didn’t just struggle to score – they also couldn’t keep the taller Trojans off the offensive glass, and as such, USC finished with 18 second-chance points. Washington had only four, despite finishing with more offensive rebounds (15-13).
So even as the Trojans missed open shots – they aren’t any good, either, so there were several of those – they benefited from 13 offensive rebounds on 35 missed field goals, and 16 points from 6-foot-11 forward Nikola Jovanovic.
“We turned the ball over at the end of the first half. They scored on that. We didn’t get shots at the rim. Again, it wasn’t just one thing,” Romar said. “There were a number of things. We didn’t box out. We didn’t play the post we were supposed to play the post.”
The smallest margin between the teams in the final 12 minutes was nine points, and the Huskies had no chance after falling behind by 14 points with eight minutes to play.
Elijah Stewart added 14 points for the Trojans, and Katin Reinhardt had 11. Huskies guard Mike Anderson finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds.
UW hosts Colorado on Thursday. Williams-Goss is expected to return for that game, and it seems fair to assume Kemp should have a chance to play, too.
But, Romar said, even “if we don’t have everybody, I expect us to put a better mental and physical effort forth, for sure. And we just start from there.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME – Nikola Jovanovic scored a team-high 16 points and had 7 rebounds for the Trojans. His 6-foot-11 presence inside was difficult for the Huskies to contain, and UW didn’t have anyone who could adequately defend him when he caught the ball in the paint.
IT WAS OVER WHEN – The Trojans used an 8-3 run to take a 57-43 lead with a little more than eight minutes to play, and the Huskies simply didn’t have enough firepower – or play well enough defensively – to overcome such a deficit.
STAT OF THE GAME – USC shot 58.6 percent from the field in the second half after making only 31.4 percent of its shots before halftime, and outscored the Huskies 18-4 in second-chance points.
QUOTABLE – ““We’ve got to get better. How about that?” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar, asked what the Huskies have to do before playing again next week
WHAT IT MEANS – A 15-point loss to the Pac-12’s worst team (or are they?) is disappointing and embarrassing, no matter who was sitting out due to injury. Of course, those feelings are tempered some by the fact that two starters (Shawn Kemp Jr. and Nigel Williams-Goss) didn’t play, though Romar didn’t seem to think it would have mattered, given the kind of mistakes the Huskies made. That’s particularly alarming for a team that has now lost nine of its last 10 games, and probably just squandered its last best chance to add another victory this season.
UP NEXT – Colorado at Washington, 6 p.m. Thursday, March 5 (FOX Sports 1)
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple