Jan. 31, 2013
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing SEATTLE - It was scintillating. It was sweet. Like not-so-old times inside rockin' old Hec Ed.
A raucous home crowd - by far the season's loudest and most influential -- pushed the Huskies to a raging, 11-point lead seemingly before Arizona could hear straight.
A huge season-altering chance was at hand: A resume-building victory on national television over the No. 8 team in the nation, what would be loss number three among the four teams ahead of them in the conference in less than 24 hours. The fourth team, Arizona State, is coming to Alaska Airlines Arena Saturday.
"We jumped on them," said senior point guard Abdul Gaddy, whose aggressive drives and deft passing early sparked UW to a 16-5 lead after just 7 minutes. "We hit them with the first punch."
But the shooting went ice cold. C.J. Wilcox got iced by foul trouble. And tested, talented Arizona punched back to ruin this mammoth Huskies chance.
Wilcox was limited to 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting and sat for 4 minutes midway through the second half with four fouls. Washington went from four points up to down by five before its leading scorer finally returned with 7:24 remaining.
That was the final, fatal turning point of the Huskies' crushing, 57-53 loss on a thudding Thursday night before 8,535 zanies at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Washington's players silently walked off the floor, appearing stunned. Most heads were as down as their spirits.
As big a win as this would have been, it was that large of a defeat.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for us - that we weren't able to capitalize on," UW coach Lorenzo Romar said after Arizona's first win in six tries in Seattle wiped away the final remnants of the Huskies' 4-0 start in league play. "The crowd was great, the best of the year. We didn't capitalize on it."
Scott Suggs scored 11 points but missed six of nine shots. Gaddy and Aziz N'Diaye each had 10, going a combined 9 for 20 from the field. N'Diaye added 11 rebounds for his eighth double-double this season.
But the 7-footer missed two free throws that would have given the Huskies the lead with 96 seconds remaining. It was yet another missed chance for UW (12-9, 4-4 Pac-12).
N'Diaye, a 42-percent foul shooter in three Huskies seasons, swished his first two free throws of this night. But he missed his final four tries, though his stroke looks smoother than it's ever been.
"Yes I've been working on compressing my shot on the line," he said. "To be honest I don't know why I'm not making them."
With UW down 4 and 10.9 seconds to go, Romar called an inbounds play to feed Wilcox cutting down the lane to the basket. Gaddy didn't think Wilcox was open, so he was left to send a bailout pass into the far corner to N'Diaye. The play's fifth and last option was forced to hoist his first career 3-point try.
You can imagine how that went. Like rest of the final minute and a half for UW.
"We had a chance," Wilcox said. "We just didn't execute.
"We just need to execute at the end of the game."
The Dawgs went 10 of 17 from the line. Fifty-nine percent free-throw shooting will almost always doom a team in a game as close and physically defended as was this latest UW-UofA thriller.
Romar bemoaned those misses, as well as his team getting just 10 points off Arizona's 17 turnovers. The Wildcats (18-2, 6-2) got twice as many points off the same number of UW turnovers. They won for the first time in six games in Seattle.
The Huskies lost a fourth consecutive conference game for the first time since 2008.
"Right now, our guys are really down. Our guys know that they came out and were ready to play," Romar said.
"When you come out and you realize you didn't give it your all, that's tough. But you fight like we did tonight and come up short, it takes more than a couple hours to get over that.
"But we will come back Friday and prepare for Arizona State."
Wilcox sitting was pivotal; Washington scored four points in the 6-plus minutes he was out. Also pivotal: The favorite, backdoor lob play Romar called for him with 30 seconds left and Washington down 55-53.
N'Diaye set a screen at the foul line. Wilcox broke off it down the right side of the lane, a layup and tie game in sight. But Gaddy's pass off the dribble soared errantly toward the top-right corner of the backboard. Wilcox did well to leap high and just get the end of his fingers on it before Arizona grabbed the killer of UW's 17 turnovers off the floor.
To his credit, the Huskies' co-captain took full responsibility for last, best chance to seize back the lead and get a huge victory.
"It was a bad pass," said Gaddy, who finished with six assists and six turnovers after his dynamic start. "If I had made a better pass he'd have had a layup."
Nick Johnson scored 15 points for the Wildcats. He played bumping, lockdown defense on Wilcox - when UW's leading scorer in conference play wasn't hampered by fouls, that is.
The Huskies rode the roars of their jazzed crowd of the season to storm to a 16-5 lead at the start. But Arizona - owner of comebacks wins over No. 5 Florida, Clemson, Miami, No. 17 San Diego State and Colorado -- weathered that storm. The 'Cats countered midway through the opening half with its own 16-5 run to take a one-point lead with 7½ minutes left before halftime.
The Huskies had to feel great about taking a 28-23 lead into the break with Wilcox, averaging 20 points per game in Pac-12 play, going 3 for 8 in the first half.
They didn't feel so hot after the final 20 minutes of their first home game against a ranked team since Dec. 22, 2009, a win over No. 19 Texas A&M.
Washington still hasn't beaten a top-10 team at home since Feb. 8, 2008, over No. 5 UCLA.
The one bright spot of the ultimately dark UW night: The Pac-12 is wide open. Top teams are now losing almost each league night. And the Huskies still have some resume-enhancing games remaining: two against ASU, at UCLA next week and again at home March 9, home against Oregon Feb. 13 and at Arizona Feb. 20. All that is before the who-knows-what-will-happen Pac-12 tournament March 13-16 in Las Vegas.
"We've got, what, 10 games left?" Gaddy said, shorting the Huskies an 11th regular-season game still to go. "We got a lot of basketball left.
"Our season could turn around quickly. Coach Romar tells us this all the time. He's been through this before. He's lost the first five games (to begin league play in 2004) and still won the Pac."