Jan. 30, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
PULLMAN, Wash. - Isaiah Thomas called it his most frustrating regular-season game in his three seasons at Washington.
He and his Huskies had plenty to be frustrated about.
The season-high 24 turnovers and 37-percent shooting, both while in rushes to do something -- anything -- against Washington State's zone defense. The failure to keep trying Matthew Bryan-Amaning inside against that zone, even though their outside shots weren't falling. And a season-high 87 points allowed.
Yet the Pac-10's first-place team led by seven points in the first half. They trailed by just six with 5 minutes remaining amid the rowdiest road scene the Huskies have faced all season.
"We had the game, even though we played so badly," Thomas said outside the quiet visitors' locker room off WSU's Friel Court late Sunday night. "We had so many chances. We just didn't capitalize."
Thomas tried to will the Dawgs back from an 11-point deficit in the final 6 minutes at Washington State. But more missed shots and turnovers doomed the rally halfway back, and the 18th-ranked Dawgs lost for the second time in the Pac-10, 87-80 inside raucous Beasley Coliseum.
"We talked to our team (in the locker room postgame) that maybe we could have done a better with the time off that we had, maybe done a better job in practice," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said of the seven days between a home win over Arizona State and Sunday's self-destruction.
"The main thing tonight was not taking care of the basketball," the coach added, before he and his Huskies boarded a silent flight back across the state that landed near midnight Monday morning.
Before they got on the plane, the Huskies (15-5, 7-2 Pac-10) opened their postgame sandwich boxes prepared by a Pullman shop -- and found a photocopied condolence note usually reserved for deaths of loved ones.
"May memories of the fun you share bring you gentle comfort. So sorry for your loss," the prank note said, over a serene beach scene of footprints in sand. More than one Husky noticed it.
Thomas led UW with 19 points and five assists, but 11 of those points came from the foul line. The midseason candidate for national player of the year was just 3-13 from the field and had a season-high seven turnovers - way off his season average of a 2.3-to-1 ratio of assist to turnovers, third-best in the conference entering Sunday. He fouled out in the final minute.
"I blame this game on me, because of how it ended," Thomas said.
But he wasn't the only culprit. Justin Holiday had 16 points and 12 rebounds, but was just 4 for 12 from the field. Bryan-Amaning, Washington's second-leading scorer just behind Thomas at 16 points per game, finished with just six on 1-for-8 shooting.
"I don't know if we looked in there enough (to Bryan-Amaning)," Holiday said.
So it went. The Huskies, the third-highest scoring team in the nation entering the week, couldn't get out of their own way at times. Terrence Ross was the lone Husky to shoot 50 percent, at 5 for 10 for 14 points.
It added up to Washington's first loss in five games against their rivals.
Want a barometer for how this team goes? UW has committed more turnovers than assists in each of their five losses, after 24 turnovers and just 12 assists Sunday. The one other team the Huskies had more turnovers than assists, Dec. 29 at USC, they miraculously rallied to force overtime before winning.
Cougars students -- hoarse from roaring all evening -- celebrated by storming the floor. They then carried WSU players such as a shouting Faisal Adams around on their shoulders. Some around WSU called it the loudest home crowd in years for this 269th meeting of Dawgs and Cougs.
Thomas, who is now 2-1 against the Cougars here, scoffed at that.
"It's us. It's Washington. We're number one in the league. Why wouldn't they be the loudest?" Thomas said. "For them to storm the floor like they did, I will remember that when they come over to our place (Feb. 27)."
UW ends the first half of conference play 7-2, denied its first 8-1 start in the Pac-10 since 1984. The Dawgs are tied for first with Arizona in the league standings, with a game in Tucson on Feb. 19.
"We can't panic. We can't let this loss turn into two or three, because we have two more road games coming up," Thomas said of this week's trip to Oregon State and Oregon.
Klay Thompson, who was just 4-for-26 for WSU in its two losses against UW last season, made 9 of 18 on his home floor for 25 points as his Cougars (15-6, 5-4) revived their hopes for the NCAA tournament.
Thomas didn't make his first basket until 6:16 remained. Then he made a corner 3 and drove all the way to the basket from the other end to get Washington to within 80-74 with 4:55 to go.
Washington State then went haywire: Thompson missed a jumper, DeAngelo Casto missed two free throws, Aden committed a turnover. But the Huskies missed four consecutive chances to get within four points.
Holiday missed what would have been a huge 3-pointer. Scott Suggs lofted an ill-advised pass into the center of the court for Thomas that the Cougars easily swiped. Thomas missed a 3-pointer that was his deepest try of the night, from about 23 feet, part of UW's 20 missing in 31 tries from bonus range. And Bryan-Amaning hustled for an offensive rebound - but missed the put-back chance.
The Huskies never got closer.
"We were throwing soft passes and they were picking them off," said Darnell Gant, who had nine points and a season-best seven rebounds in the junior's best all-around night this season. "Negligent passes. Shots weren't falling - just everything wasn't clicking."
As Holiday said: "We still had chances to win - and we didn't take care of it."
Romar is now 5-1 all time against Washington State coach Ken Bone, who was on his UW staff from 2002-05 before he took over at Portland State and then, in 2009, at WSU.
Romar tried a zone defense for the first time in the game early in the second half, with Thompson and first-half star Casto on the bench in foul trouble for Washington State. But Reggie Moore, from Seattle, hit a rainbow 3 over that zone, then took a steal and dunked an alley ooop pass. The Cougars were chest bumping in the middle of the court, the crowd was going bonkers, and the Huskies trailed 55-44 with 16:22 left.
The Dawgs were still down by 11 with just under 6 minutes left. That's when Thomas tried to take over. But he couldn't do it single-handedly.
"Isaiah was getting us open looks. We just weren't knocking them down," Holiday said.
The Huskies were without long-range shooter C.J. Wilcox. The redshirt freshman's head ran into the elbow of teammate Aziz N'Diaye during practice on Monday, resulting in a concussion. Wilcox participated on the side in the afternoon shootaround and warmed up with his teammates in the minutes before tipoff, suggested he could be back when Washington plays at Oregon State Thursday night and at Oregon on Saturday.