SEATTLE – The look on their faces after the game told you all you needed to know. Four consecutive possessions changed everything for the Washington Huskies Saturday, and not in a good way.
The Huskies clawed their way back into the game only to see a lot of possible positive outcomes become major disappointments.
The 72-64 loss to Oregon came down to four wasted trips down the floor in the final three minutes when UW failed to score and watched their hopes of a NCAA Tournament bid probably waste away, as well.
The Huskies (20-11 and 10-8 in Pac-12 play) head to the conference tournament in Las Vegas probably needing to reach the championship game to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. UW starts that difficult quest Wednesday against Oregon State.
Saturday’s loss was a case of what might have been. The Huskies battled back to cut Oregon’s 14-point lead (65-51 with 6:48 left) to only four points at 68-64 when Noah Dickerson made two free throws with 3:12 remaining.
The crowd at Alaska Airlines Arena reached a frenzied state as momentum swung to the Huskies. UW would have a chance to close the gap on the next four possessions, but came away with nothing – two turnovers, three missed shots and one missed front end of a 1-and-1 by Dickerson after making 10 in a row.
“We just couldn’t make the plays down the stretch,’’ said UW coach Mike Hopkins. “When you’re trying to make a positive play, you have to trust each other. Sometimes because of the emotions of the moment, you play a little faster than you should.”
A dejected Martisse Thybulle and David Crisp knew afterward they had lost more than one game this time.
“We have to have more poise,’’ said Crisp, who led the team with 19 points from his point guard spot. “That’s on me. We didn’t get in the right sets [down the stretch] and didn’t get the shots we wanted. We have to slow down in those situations.”
The Ducks (20-11, 10-8) were in control most of the game. Oregon made 8 of 16 shots from the 3-point arc in the first half and built a 44-29 lead at the break. The Ducks stayed in front by controlling the boards (37-29) and outscoring the Huskies 17-4 on second-chance points.
“Rebounding has been a problem for us all year and it really hurt us tonight,’’ Hopkins said. “The guys kept fighting and I wish we could have pulled it out. But you just can’t put yourself in a hole like we did tonight. Everybody knows what’s on the line.”
Which is why the loss hurt more this time. But Hopkins made his argument as to why the Huskies still deserve NCAA consideration.
“This league doesn’t get enough respect,’’ Hopkins said. “We won 20 games and beat three teams (Kansas, USC and Arizona) that were ranked in the top 10 when we played them. And having a winning (Pac-12) record in a Power-5 conference is quite an accomplishment.”
That’s especially true when you consider this team was 2-16 in conference play last year and only 9-22 overall. It’s one of the best turnarounds this year in college basketball.
Maybe an NIT bid is on the offing, but the Huskies go to the Pac-12 Tournament hoping to continue to surprise everyone.