SEATTLE – Despite the outcome, the Washington Huskies weren’t all that upset about the circumstances of the shot that buried them on Sunday afternoon.
They led by a point in the final seconds of Sunday’s game against the California Golden Bears, poised to win a game they mostly trailed after playing minimal defense and taking a beating on the boards.
Sam Singer, Cal’s sophomore guard who shoots 13.8 percent from 3-point range – worst of any Cal player on the floor – held the ball atop the arc as the clock ticked inside of seven seconds. UW guard Andrew Andrews, knowing Singer wasn’t likely to hurt UW from that range, took a step back to protect against the dribble drive.
But 10 days after Andrews beat the Colorado Buffaloes with a last-second jumper of his own, he watched Singer launch and connect on a 3-pointer with four seconds remaining, the shot that lifted Cal to a 90-88 victory over the Huskies before a generously announced crowd of 6,319 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Andrews didn’t seem bothered by the way UW played that final possession, saying that if Cal was going to shoot a 3, “probably we want Singer to shoot it. He looked to drive, so I kind of backed off a little, had my hand high, and he shot over my hand and made it. I think pretty much all of us would have a 14-percent 3-point shooter shooting a 3 to win the game at the end, if that was the opposing team.”
More troubling for the Huskies was the way they defended – or didn’t – throughout this entertaining matchup. California shot 60 percent from the field, attacking the rim with fervor against a Huskies team that often played five guards at once.
Such a tactic is necessary due to the dismissal of 7-foot shot-blocker Robert Upshaw and an injury to 6-foot-10 forward Jernard Jarreau. And after the Huskies lost 84-74 to Stanford on Wednesday night, Cal further exposed just how much of a dropoff Washington’s defense has experienced without Upshaw thwarting penetration near the basket.
Jordan Mathews led the Bears (13-9, 3-6) with 23 points. Tyrone Wallace added 21. David Kravish had 16. And 50 of Cal’s points came in the paint. The Bears also outrebounded UW 38-22.
Unlike Stanford, which pounded the Huskies inside with a taller post player (Stefan Nastic), Cal’s guards simply dribbled and slashed their way to layup after layup.
“We have to be able to keep them in front of us,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Their guards continued to penetrate, and when their guards didn’t score off penetration, they kicked it out. Guarding the ball screen, all of that. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”
The Huskies at least figured out how to score, which counts as progress, in an awkward kind of way. Their five-guard lineup helped force 14 Cal turnovers, which the Huskies converted into 19 points.
After falling behind 40-27 with fewer than three minutes remaining in the first half, UW guard Darin Johnson hit a pair of 3-pointers to cut the margin to single-digits. Sophomore point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who scored 31 points, converted a 3-point play and hit a 3-pointer from the corner at the first-half buzzer to trim Cal’s halftime lead to 43-41.
It was a back-and-forth affair thereafter. The Huskies tied it at 51-51, 59-59, 61-61, and then 71-71 with a little more than eight minutes to play. Cal responded with a quick 7-0 run, four of those points by Singer (on a layup and an immediate steal and score). Mike Anderson and Williams-Goss carried UW’s offense in the final minutes, and the Huskies finally took their first lead since early in the first half when Williams-Goss hit a pull-up jumper with 19.5 seconds to play.
After playing man-to-man defense the entire game, the Huskies switched to a 2-3 zone for Cal’s final possession. Romar wanted to limit the kind of successful dribble penetration Cal relied upon all afternoon.
To that end, it worked. Cal moved the ball around the perimeter until it settled with Singer, who hadn’t made a 3-pointer since Jan. 4.
But he nailed this one, and Williams-Goss missed a desperation attempt at the buzzer.
“I was in a little bit of a slump, pretty much this whole year,” Singer said. But I kept working, put my head down, kept getting shots up in the morning, after practice. … It feels great to have it all pay off and finally hit a 3, especially the time that I hit it.”
The timing was particularly deflating for Washington, which spent the entire second half trying to score enough points to compensate for its porous defense throughout. On Wednesday, they venture south for a visit to Oregon, the Pac-12’s highest-scoring team.
Romar liked the way UW spread the floor when it went with a smaller lineup, and felt that was the spark for its improved offensive production. And he was pleased that a more aggressive defensive approach yielded 14 turnovers. But there needs to be a balance.
“At the expense of applying more pressure, we gave up too many layups and weren’t there to provide help,” Romar said.
“We have to tweak that tweak. We’ve got to get better at what we do on the defensive end.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME – Can’t usually say the losing team had the player of the game, but Nigel Williams-Goss took over. The UW point guard scored 31 points (one shy of a career high) on 11-of-17 shooting – including 3-of-6 from 3-point range – and had five assists and zero turnovers. He also played the entire game.
IT WAS OVER WHEN – Sam Singer made a 3-pointer with 4.0 seconds left to give the Bears a 90-88 lead, and Williams-Goss missed a rushed 3-point try at the buzzer.
STAT OF THE GAME – California outrebounded the Huskies 38-22.
QUOTABLE – “Unfortunately, I don’t think we defended well enough to win this game tonight. That’s what it came down to.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar
WHAT IT MEANS – Washington showed offensive progress, shooting 53.2 percent from the field and using an attacking defense to force 14 turnovers. But the Huskies’ attack mindset hurt them at times, and they weren’t nearly stout enough against Cal’s guards. Jordan Mathews and Tyrone Wallace had no problem creating easy shots against the Huskies’ man-to-man defense, and made it difficult for the Huskies to ever complete their comeback. Once they finally did, Cal was bailed out by unlikely hero Sam Singer, but UW didn’t lose this game in the final minutes. It lost by failing to adequately defend the rim for 40.
UP NEXT – Washington at Oregon, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4 (ESPN2)
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple