March 9, 2013
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The seniors went out with a roar. With diving plays and emphatic blocks and another burst of late-season energy.
But not a win.
"We wanted to come in here and finish this season on a winning streak so we gave a lot of effort today," Scott Suggs said. "It was fun.
"I wish we could have given the fans a win."
The fifth-year senior from Missouri made six of 10 shots for 14 points, Aziz N'Diaye from Senegal had 10 rebounds with a monster block and accompanying push up that will be remembered for a while, and Abdul Gaddy from nearby Tacoma added eight points, four assists. All were in their final UW regular-season home games.
But 19 Washington turnovers gave UCLA 29 points. That and two, key 3-point shots that went so far in and then maddeningly back out late by C.J. Wilcox were why the Huskies lost their regular-season finale to the Bruins 61-54 on a frantic Saturday afternoon at Alaska Airlines Arena.
"The thing we talked to the team about after the game was the turnovers," Lorenzo Romar said after UW's first loss in nine home games against the Bruins. "That was the difference in the game."
The Huskies (17-14, 9-9 Pac-12) did win something Saturday: a standings tiebreaker with USC. That got Washington sixth seed for the Pac-12 tournament and a first-round game Wednesday in Las Vegas Wednesday at approximately 8:30 p.m. against 11th-seed Washington State. The Huskies edged the Cougars in both meetings during the regular season.
The winner of the third UW-WSU meeting this season will play third-seeded Oregon Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
"Whoever and whenever they tell us to play, let's play," Romar said of UW's draw.
Romar conceded what's been obvious for weeks: The Huskies need to win four games in four days for the Pac-12 tournament title to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.
"Yeah, I don't think there's any question we have to do that," the coach said. "But we have to win the first day (first). We have to have a good practice Monday."
Saturday's loss was only the Huskies' third defeat in 11 Senior Day games with Romar as their coach.
"Again, 29 points off our turnovers. Our inability to take care of the basketball was the difference in the game," UW's veteran coach said, tapping the table he was sitting behind for emphasis.
Shawn Kemp Jr. scored eight points to put Washington (17-14, 9-9 Pac-12) ahead by seven early, and finished with 10 points. But the Huskies missed seven consecutive shots with the game on the line, after UW had a four-point lead with 6 minutes left. They scored just two points over the final 5:59, after a lay in off an inbounds play by Gaddy had Washington ahead 52-48.
The ill-timed drought allowed the Bruins (23-8, 13-5) to surge back and win the Pac-12 regular-season title. That was ensured when Oregon lost minutes later at Utah. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, in Seattle for the women's Pac-12 tournament downtown at KeyArena, presented the Bruins with the Pac-12 regular-season championship in the loud visitor's locker room after the game.
The Dawgs' consensus after this one: This was an aberration during their late-season burst of energy, better play and three consecutive wins before Saturday. Romar lauded his team for playing "the right way" as far as intensity and defense - just not in securing the basketball.
"I don't think we lost any confidence today, but we know we need to limit our turnovers," Suggs said.
"We had a good roll going on into the (Pac-12) tournament. This is just a minor setback," Wilcox said. "We know how we can play.
"If we get on a roll ..."
If the Huskies come out with as much energy Wednesday in Las Vegas as they did on a sunny Saturday morning in Seattle, they'll be playing games on consecutive days next week.
Kemp attacked the rim for rebounds, put backs and dunks. Jenard Jarreau was spinning and scoring - once on a monster, two-handed dunk on a breakaway. He was jazzed he ran into the basket standard on his landing.
Suggs continued his complete reinvention in the last two weeks from a sleepy, sometimes seemingly disinterested bystander during games to a roaring, intimidating scorer. He enters the Pac-12 tournament with 73 points in his last four games. He had 28 in his four starts before that.
Almost every time he scored over UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad, who finished with a game-high 21 points, Suggs talked trash into the freshman phenom's face. Once he even flexed and roared after a defensive stop, as he did in Thursday's win over USC.
UW led by as many as seven early and through most of the opening half, yielding it only twice (UCLA 2-0 and 26-25). Kemp had eight points and was so strong inside the Bruins were doubling teaming him by half's end. That assuredly wasn't in their game plan.
N'Diaye had a monster hustle play with 5:42 left that produced one of the biggest roars of a noise day inside ol' Hec Ed. UCLA's Jordan Adams drove down the baseline from right to left at the rim. N'Diaye sprinted from the backside, leaped and swatted Adams' shot into the third row past the corner. The 7-footer landed prone on the floor and did a showy push up. That raised to noise to ear-splitting.
"I was just trying to keep our energy going," he said with a shrug afterward.
The Bruins confounded themselves and everyone else Thursday night by losing at last-place WSU, so UW knew UCLA would be loaded for baby bear Saturday. Then they confounded Wilcox with banging defense. He finished 3 for 13 from the field.
Two misses in particular could have changed everything. With 5:15 left, Wilcox was left wide open beyond the top of the key. The shot was headed to the bottom of the net -- then inexplicably spun out. Instead of leading by seven, UW watched UCLA score the next nine points to take a 57-52 lead on two free throws by Jordan Adams with 1:14 remaining.
The same thing happened to Wilcox off the left wing with 2:14 remaining. That in-and-out 3 would have tied the game for eighth time, at 55.
"Yeah, when you feel like you are down - really in there - and they pop out it's very frustrating," Wilcox said.
Then he added with a shrug: "Just have to keep shootin', I guess."
Suggs came out with his arm around his father Ron and one around his mother Cassandra, who came in from Washington, Mo., west of St. Louis when the seniors were introduced before tipoff. Gaddy came out with his parents, Oseye and Abdul Sr., and his extended family that including siblings from Tacoma. He, like Suggs and N'Diaye, triumphantly raised his framed Huskies game jersey about his head as the home crowd cheered.
N'Diaye came out for Senior Day introductions with his mother Aminata, who was here for the first time from their native Senegal, and his brother Alioune, who lives on the U.S. East Coast.
"It was amazing, to have them fly all the way here to support me," N'Diaye said. "It's been an amazing journey, and I'm blessed to be a part of it."
And as far as he's concerned, it's far from over. He feels renewed by the possibilities awaiting the Huskies in this league's wide-open tournament -- even as daunting as four wins in four days may seem.
"This," N'Diaye said, "is now a new season."