C.J. Wilcox scores 24 points – 15 in the second half. But a lack of rebounding and one field goal over a decisive, 10-minute stretch of the second half send keeps UW from improving to 6-3 midway through the Pac-12 season. Up next: Thursday at Utah.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
PULLMAN, Wash. – A golden opportunity was a dozen minutes away.
C.J. Wilcox was warming up with 10 of his 15 second-half points in the first six-plus minutes. And his Huskies led ailing, scuffling Washington State by eight. A chance at 6-3 record in the Pac-12 midway through the conference schedule was right there.
“Huge,” coach Lorenzo Romar would lament later Saturday afternoon. “This is a huge opportunity missed.”
A lack of rebounding on WSU misses, a lack of proper defense on ball screens and shooters, and a scoring drought of 10, killer minutes sent Washington to a surprising and frustrating, 72-67 loss to the last-place Cougars at Beasley Coliseum.
Just when it appeared the Huskies were making a move in the Pac-12, too.
“We knew how serious this game was coming in. We knew we had to take care of business,” said Wilcox, who scored 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. “I thought we did a good job of that early ... and then they made that huge run on us. And we couldn't come back.”
Perris Blackwell had 13 points and 10 rebounds for Washington (13-9, 5-4 Pac-12), which lost for the first time in seven meetings against its rivals.
The Huskies had won seven of their previous 10 games overall. They were leading at the half and shooting 52 percent. But they shot just 39 percent after halftime.
This loss in a nutshell: UW led 42-34 with 13:40 left on consecutive 3-pointers by Nigel Williams-Goss and Wilcox. The Huskies then missed 13 of their next 14 shots -- the only make a dunk by Wilcox on a back-door cut and feed from the foul line by Blackwell with 7:53 to go. The misses included one on a clear dunk by Shawn Kemp Jr., a gaffe with the Huskies ahead 52-49 that ignited the mocking home crowd and the Cougars.
The Dawgs also allowed the more active Cougs to grab seven of their 14 offensive rebounds from that 13:40 mark until 2:35 remained. UW went from up eight to down 11 to a team with just one conference win entering Saturday during that dreadful, decisive stretch.
Washington State (9-12, 2-7) was playing with leading scorer DaVonte Lacy for the first time since he injured his ribs Jan. 5. But it was D.J. Shelton’s career day – 20 points, 18 rebounds, plus UW’s woes in rebounding and shooting for a decisive, 10-minute stretch of the second half – that doomed the Dawgs.
The Huskies’ reliance on smaller, 6-foot-5 Mike Anderson in a four-guard starting lineup caught up with them, as Shelton repeatedly exploited his size advantage for second chances inside.
Fourteen of the game’s first 20 offensive rebounds were grabbed by Cougars, many of those over the top of flat-footed Huskies.
"Rebounding. Rebounding was the main thing," Wilcox said. "They got a lot of second-chance shots, a lot of open 3's after that. It was tough to come back after they started knocking down shots."
The Cougars made just 61 percent of their foul shots, and many of those misses came late to give the Huskies a last, fleeting hope. Williams-Goss, scoreless for the first 25 minutes, hit a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left that got UW improbably within 67-63. Then Wilcox made a 3 that kept the Huskies within 70-66 with 22 seconds to go.
Dexter Kernich-Drew made one of two free throws for WSU to make it 71-66 with 21.2 seconds remaining.
The Huskies had a concerted effort to get the ball inside and to use a larger lineup than they have all season during a slow-paced opening half. Big men Blackwell, Kemp and Anderson were a combined 6 for 9 for 14 of Washington’s 27 points in the first half.
Meanwhile, Williams-Goss took only one shot in the opening period – after scoring a Huskies freshman-record 32 points in his previous game seven days earlier to beat Oregon State.
Wilcox made his first three shots and was 3 for 4 in the first half. But a hot start by Shelton (11 first-half points) inside and out allowed WSU to keep the game tight, and the Huskies ahead by only 27-25 at the break.
Defensively the Huskies reverted to November habits of not helping on drives and getting beaten into the lane. Missed defensive assignments were reminiscent of blowout losses to Indiana and Boston College in New York two months ago.
"Guys tried to make reads and didn't stick to what we were practicing," Wilcox said. "That's what killed us, especially in the first half.
"We knew how big this game was, and how it could affect us down the line, come tournament time. It definitely stings a lot more than earlier games."
The fifth-year senior captain admitted he was surprised by this setback, "especially when we've been playing well. ... We should have 40 minutes of focus, all the way through."
These puzzling Huskies now head to Utah for a game Thursday and then to Colorado next Sunday, having squandered a chance at 6-3 in the league and needed to steal back this road loss with wins in some other unfriendly place.
“This is a huge opportunity missed, but it's the halfway point,” Romar said of the conference season. “I think we were in a worse situation than this a little over a month ago."
"So we just have to come back from it."