The atmosphere begged for better than this. The Washington Huskies sold out Hec Edmundson Pavilion for a men’s basketball game on Saturday night for the first time in five seasons, benefiting from the notoriety of their opponent — 11th-ranked UCLA — and the prospect of a star-studded showdown between the teams’ talented freshmen guards.
UW officially announced attendance as 10,000. Count the Huskies’ roster among that total. They were mostly bystanders on this night, too often watching the more cohesive and more talented Bruins wreck them with each ball reversal and alley-oop lob and uncontested 3-pointer.
UCLA won easily, 107-66, torturing the Huskies for 40 minutes with a basket-scoring display befitting its status as the nation’s most efficient offense. The Bruins shot 60.6 percent from the field and 64.7 percent in the second half. They led by 18 points at halftime and needed only eight more minutes to push the margin to 34. This was an embarrassment from tipoff to garbage time. And there was a lot of garbage time.
“I don’t feel that was our basketball team tonight,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “I didn’t recognize our team tonight.”
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In the end, it was the fourth-largest margin of defeat in program history, and the worst since a 105-60 loss at Stanford in January 2002, the season before Romar was hired as coach.
The Huskies tumbled to 9-14 overall, 2-9 in Pac-12 play, their losing streak now at five games. Any progress made during close losses to Arizona and USC was absent on Saturday.
How bad was it? The Bruins scored 52 points in the first half, and it could have been worse: they made only 4 of 15 from 3-point range and committed nine turnovers in that period.
UW guard Markelle Fultz, the projected No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft, and UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, the projected No. 2 pick, attracted 21 NBA scouts to this game. Those evaluators watched Fultz score 25 points with six rebounds and five assists. He made 5 of 10 from 3-point range. As usual, he played well, aside from five turnovers. As usual, he had little help.
“We could have played harder,” Fultz offered afterward, and, well, yeah.
Ball operated far more comfortably, swinging crisp passes to open teammates, attacking the hoop when needed and using his 6-foot-6 frame within the Bruins’ zone defense to help disrupt whatever the Huskies were trying to do offensively.
Ball scored nine points in the first half, then added another nine in the first four minutes of the second, launching a trio of 3-pointers that each snapped through the net, including one from about 25 feet. He threw alley-oop passes for dunks. He caught an alley-oop pass for a dunk. As usual, he played well, finishing with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists. As usual, his teammates did, too.
The Huskies couldn’t stop them, either. Freshman forward TJ Leaf finished with 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting with 10 rebounds. Senior guard Bryce Alford scored 21. Aaron Holiday, who doesn’t even start, scored 20. Washington committed 20 turnovers, shot only 38.5 percent from the field against a so-so defensive team, got crushed on the boards, 41-29, and simply did not look as if it belonged on the same court as the Bruins.
Or that it wanted to be on the same court as the Bruins.
“We just didn’t seem to have the fight in us tonight to really fight back and challenge a very potent offensive team,” Romar said.
There were a few moments that inspired loud applause from the sellout crowd. One came in the first half, with UCLA already comfortably ahead: during a timeout, Michael Porter Jr., Jaylen Nowell and Daejon Davis — signees in UW’s touted, incoming recruiting class — were shown on the big screen. Those three are a big reason — perhaps the only reason — why it is not yet a foregone conclusion that coach Lorenzo Romar will lose his job when this miserable season ends.
If they could have suited up Saturday, that trio could have started for this team, the current group again doing little worth watching.