Feb. 19, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
TUCSON, Ariz. - Matthew Bryan-Amaning did all he could - except take down a cinder-block wall. And the Huskies' big man tried to do that, too. Frustrated, he violently smacked his right hand into one just outside the visiting locker room.
A dejected Isaiah Thomas silently walked a tunnel to the team bus with his head down, keeping his headphones on. Good idea, to block out the noise of the raucous Arizona celebration going on near him.
As great and improbable as this win would have been for the Dawgs here Saturday night - coming back from 14 points down in the first half and from 12 down in the second, defying a pulsating crowd that was all in white and all screaming against them - the Huskies know they let their last chance for the Pac-10 regular-season title slip away. Missed layups and missed opportunities late doomed them.
Arizona's Derrick Williams swatted away two Huskies chances to win in the final 3 seconds, including by miraculously blocking a shot by Darnell Gant at point-blank range. That's how the No. 12 Wildcats (23-4, 12-2) remained in control of the conference with a wild, intense, 87-86 victory over the crushed Huskies.
"If I could play again right now, I'd play right now," Bryan-Amaning said with determination, moments after this gut grinder that is already being viewed as the best game on the West Coast this season.
MBA was OMG for Washington, (18-8, 10-5 Pac-10). The senior had 24 points on 12 of 19 shooting, including 18 points during UW's comeback from 12 points down early in the second half, after he and point guard Isaiah Thomas talked and decided to run improvised pick-and-roll plays. Bryan-Amaning also had eight rebounds, four assists, four steals - and a school record-tying seven blocked shots. The blocks tied David Dixon's seven in games during the 2001 and `02 seasons.
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said it was the best he's seen Bryan-Amaning in the 6-foot-9 forward's 127-game career.
C.J. Wilcox had 19 points off the bench and Thomas 12 points and 10 assists with just three turnovers for the Huskies.
But Williams was ultimately just too much. Despite the spirited and impressive rally in the second half amid the most difficult setting the Dawgs have faced in years, Washington knows it can still improve before the postseason.
"The mental mistakes, we cannot make them," Romar said to his players in UW's solemn locker room. "But do not forget the positive things that you did out there. In some ways, you took some steps forward."
The winning points of this classic came with 17.5 seconds left, after Washington's Justin Holiday left his man to block a shot at the right of the rim. The ball went to the other side of the basket. Arizona's Solomon Hill grabbed the gift and put it in to put the Wildcats ahead 87-86.
"Crazy play," Bryan-Amaning said.
Thomas then passed the ball inside to Bryan-Amaning, who traveled in the post while trying to pass it back to an open Thomas on the wing. That appeared to end it for UW.
But Hill then threw the inbounds pass off the ankles of Arizona's Lamont Jones and out of bounds, giving the Huskies a play from beneath their own basket with 2.2 seconds remaining. Romar's play sent Bryan-Amaning as a decoy across the lane high, with Gant peeling into the lane after initially setting a screen.
Holiday inbounded to an open Gant, who was about 4 feet from the rim. Williams left Bryan-Amaning, ran across the lane, leaped and swatted Gant's potential winning shot into the first row of seats beyond the baseline.
"Maybe if I threw it a little higher," Holiday lamented of his pass to Gant. "But (Williams) is athletic. That was an extremely athletic play."
Romar and his assistants howled for a goaltending call that never came. Bryan-Amaning wasn't surprised. "We know the refs aren't going to let that call end the game - unless it's blatant," he said.
The clock showed 0.2 seconds for the Huskies' final inbounds play, but it appeared at perhaps as much as a full second could have been left. Though Pac-10 officials seemingly consult courtside television monitors during most games as often than the TV announcers do, and had done so multiple times in this one, they didn't this time.
"I asked them to. They didn't want to do it," Romar said.
The lack of a review was significant. A full second, or even, say, 0.7 seconds, would have allowed for a Husky to catch and shoot before time expired, greatly expanding UW's final options to win. As it was, with just 0.2 seconds left, all the Huskies could do was lob a pass into the lane and hope for a tip. Holiday tried that, for Bryan-Amaning, but Williams poked the low-risk pass away to spark a zany celebration that left the star under a `Cat pile of teammates at center court.
"We got some luck at the end," Wildcats' coach Sean Miller said.
Williams cemented his candidacy for conference player of the year with 26 points and 11 rebounds in this nationally televised classic.
The loss leaves UW 2½ games back of the Wildcats and one game behind second-place UCLA with three regular-season league games remaining. The last chance for the Huskies to win the regular-season conference title outright, something they have done just once in 57 years, is essentially gone.
UW has three regular-season league games remaining. All are at home, where the Huskies are 13-0 and have won 14 consecutive games by 10 more points, a school record.
Washington plays a non-conference game at Seattle University in KeyArena on Tuesday, then hosts UCLA (19-7, 10-3) and USC next weekend. And the Huskies will attempt to take advantage of a familiar, backs-against-the-wall mentality.
"I think we have to win the Pac-10 tournament again. Same situation as last year," Holiday said. "We don't know where we are (in terms of the NCAA tournament) right now."
Arizona used blistering 3-point shooting and a stifling double team of Bryan-Amaning to take a 14-point lead early. After Washington had taken its first lead by repeatedly relying on the pick-and-roll plan of Thomas and Bryan-Amaning, the Wildcats then rode the bullish Williams inside to pull back ahead 78-76 with 5 minutes left.
Yet Bryan-Amaning tied it inside at 80 with his final bucket points, setting up the taut final 4 minutes.
Washington trailed by 12 after the first possession of the second half, but then Thomas and Bryan-Amaning got their give-and-go game going inside. That combination worked for consecutive dunks, layups, jumpers - you name it. Bryan-Amaning had 12 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, and Washington was suddenly within 68-65.
Then, after an Arizona turnover in the backcourt, Wilcox swished a 3 from the corner to tie it. After Jordin Mayes for the Wildcats missed a 3-pointer, Huskies freshman Terrence Ross cleaned up a blocked shot in the lane to put UW ahead for the first time, 70-68.
The Wildcats made 8 of their first 10 3-point shots, and 11 of 18 for the game. That's what kept them ahead for so long, until UW finally caught them midway through the second half.
This task was tall from the start.
The Huskies, already without point guard Abdul Gaddy for the rest of the season, were also minus injured starting guard Scott Suggs Saturday - and are likely to be at least for another week. He sprained his left knee early in Thursday's win at Arizona State. Venoy Overton had six points, four rebounds and two assists in his fourth start of the season in place of Suggs, as Romar opted for the senior's experience playing inside raucous McKale plus his season-best play of the last three games.
Washington essentially had eight players Saturday. That excluded Antoine Hosley, a freshman walkon who rarely plays, Brendan Sherrer, another walkon who didn't make the trip because of a staph infection and redshirting freshman Desmond Simmons, who had preseason knee surgery.
Friday, the Huskies were forced to use team manager Kegan Bone - nephew of WSU coach Ken Bone - to practice 5-on-5.
Yet they still almost pulled it out.