Finally, mercifully, after 13 consecutive losses and counting, after so many empty offensive possessions and so many turnovers and so much lackluster defense, the Washington Huskies are finished with this mess of a men’s basketball season.
They laid the catastrophe to rest with another inevitable defeat, this one 78-73 to the USC Trojans on Wednesday night in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament at the mostly empty T-Mobile Arena, 49 days now separating them from their most recent victory.
The final damage represents Washington’s worst men’s basketball season in 23 years, and by far the worst of coach Lorenzo Romar’s 15-year tenure. Their 13-game losing streak is the longest in school history by four games, and their single-digit victory total (9-22) is their first since winning only five games in the 1993-94 season.
Now, they enter an offseason of uncertainty, particularly regarding Romar’s future as UW’s coach. A Yahoo.com report earlier this week indicated that UW had decided to retain Romar for the 2017-18 season, and a source close to the program told The News Tribune that Romar is expected to return. But a UW spokesperson vehemently denied that any decision had been made, saying the administration will evaluate the program at season’s end. UW athletic director Jen Cohen has not commented publicly on Romar’s future.
Romar also said it is untrue that any decision has been reached.
Asked if he is confident that he will be back, Romar replied: “I’m not the decision maker. I know that our administration and Jen Cohen, they’re very supportive. I do know that, and a decision has to be made. We’ll see what happens.”
Romar said he and Cohen have met regularly throughout the season, but he is unaware of a timetable for Cohen’s final decision.
For the second time in three games against the Trojans this season, the Huskies led at halftime, this time 39-37, despite the fact that star freshman Markelle Fultz missed his fourth consecutive game due to a sore knee. The Huskies took a 10-point lead after sophomore guard Matisse Thybulle made 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions, but USC wiped out most of that margin with a 10-2 run to close the half.
Again, turnovers were an issue. UW committed seven in the first half, three of them coming in the final 2:31 to aid USC’s surge. That trend continued in the second half, as the Huskies gave away the ball four times in the first five minutes to fuel a 15-5 run that put the Trojans ahead by eight points.
UW gave it away 16 times total, leading to 18 USC points. In the three games against the Trojans this season — all losses — the Huskies committed 50 turnovers that led to 54 points for USC.
“They’re real good at back-tipping the ball if you get a step on them, tipping the ball back,” UW guard David Crisp said. “They play the passing lanes really well. They’re real long, active. They give a lot of teams problems.”
“Against the Trojans,” Romar said, “that’s been our Achilles heel.”
The Huskies failed to keep USC forward Chimezie Metu out of the paint. Metu, one of the league’s most athletic players, totaled five dunks and scored 24 points, including a two-handed flush that gave USC its first lead at 43-42 early in the second half.
The Trojans toyed with the Huskies for a little while, maintaining a lead that bounced between five and seven points. Then came the game’s decisive sequence: With USC leading 58-53 and 9:58 left to play, Trojans forward Bennie Boatwright drove to the rim and drew a foul against UW guard Carlos Johnson, who was then called for a technical foul.
Boatwright shot four free throws — USC made its first 19 attempts from the foul line and 24 for 29 total — and made all of them. And USC still had the ball. Metu promptly scored to cap a six-point possession, and after UW forward Malik Dime missed on the other end, USC guard Elijah Stewart followed with a 3-pointer to give the Trojans a 67-53 lead, their largest of the game. The 9-0 run spanned only 48 seconds.
The Huskies at least made it interesting, responding with a 12-4 run to cut USC’s lead to 71-65 on Thybulle’s steal and dunk with 3:44 to play. Crisp cut the deficit to six once more with a driving layup with 1:35 to play. Dime made a putback to make it 76-73 with 22 seconds remaining, and after USC guard Shaqquan Aaron missed a pair of free throws, Crisp fired a 3-point attempt that could have tied it.
But he missed it well short, USC rebounded with 3.0 seconds left, and Aaron made the free throws necessary to ice the game.
This wasn’t a total flop. Crisp led UW with 22 points, and had eight rebounds and seven assists —though he committed five turnovers. So did Thybulle, who scored 14 points. Sophomore forward Noah Dickerson added 18 points. And Dime, who left the game momentarily with what appeared to be a hand injury but later returned, scored 10 points and blocked six shots.
And yet none of it was enough, a familiar refrain throughout a miserable season that is over at last.
“No matter if it showed on the stat sheet or not, as a whole team, we grew,” Dickerson said. “Having a bad year like this, teams seem to step apart, cliques start to form, people start talking, stuff like that, and that’s one thing that we never did. We were always together. We stayed together, winning or losing. We’ve all got each others’ backs. I love these guys for that. And every game, we showed heart and fight. You can’t see that on the stat sheet, but we see it, and we know, and (we’ll) just come back next year ready to go.”