March 5, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writer
SEATTLE - Venoy Overton relentlessly scrapped, dived, drove and scored.
For a season-high 31 minutes Saturday night, the senior playing his final home game as a Husky did all he could. Except win.
He and Isaiah Thomas couldn't beat USC by themselves.
Thomas had 16 points, Overton had a season-high 15 with five rebounds, four assists and intense defense, but the Huskies could not overcome USC's inside play and free-throw shooting in a bitter, 62-60 loss to the Trojans on Senior Night at Alaska Airlines Arena.
"I'm not trying to say anything bad on anybody, but I thought I played hard as hard as I can," Overton said.
There were others. Scott Suggs had 14 points off the bench and Matthew Bryan-Amaning had 11 points and six rebounds in his final home game for Washington (20-10, 11-7 Pac-10), which finished third in the Pac-10 when second-place UCLA beat Washington State earlier Saturday.
That means the Huskies and sixth-seeded Cougars will meet yet again on Thursday in their opening game of the Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles.
"Our guys understand our backs are really, really against the wall right now," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said.
So, oh, yeah, they'll be ready for the archrival Cougars.
"We lost twice to them in the regular season," Suggs said. "If we can't get up for them, something's wrong."
USC came out ultra-aggressively to take a startling, 15-point lead early. That forced the Huskies into a smaller lineup to trap USC all over the floor in a frantic attempt to rally. That meant 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye played just 12 minutes, so UW lost control of the lane and the boards. The Trojans out-rebounded Washington, a plus-5 rebounding team on average per game, 38-28. And USC's brick wall-like Alex Stepheson, who finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds, neutralized Bryan-Amaning down low.
That left the onus to score on outside shooting, and sharpshooter C.J. Wilcox could not even approach his wondrous career night of 24 second-half points that beat UCLA on Thursday. Wilcox was 1 for 7 Saturday and scored just four points in 16 minutes.
That's how the Huskies lost for the second time in three home games, and third time in five tries overall.
"It's tough because usually at the end of the year usually we are playing pretty consistent basketball," Romar said. "We haven't played, I don't think, on the offensive end with a lot of confidence.
"I do think we are a five- or 10-minute stretch (of good shooting) where we will get our confidence back. We just have to do it."
The players know that. They are already putting this rugged one -- in which they never led and could not stop USC consistently -- behind them. They are eyeing a repeat of last March's Pac-10 tournament title, which sparked a run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAAs.
"We have guys who have been in this situation. It's March. There are no more excuses," Thomas said. "Everybody has to be held accountable for what they're doing, me included. We just really have to be ready and be focused. It's one game at a time and we just have to try to make some noise."
Overton added: "It's the big stage. And I think we'll play good on the big stage."
Justin Holiday provided great defense early, then turned his ankle and finished scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting, with five rebounds and two blocks, in his final game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
"We will miss you!" the Dawg Pack of UW students chanted to the seniors after all three plus two graduating student managers were introduced.
Overton, Bryan-Amaning and Holiday are 88-46 over their four-year careers. Even with the loss they are on the cusp on becoming just the third class in UW history to reach three consecutive NCAA tournaments.
"I think we're in an all-right position, but we have to assure that and win some games in the Pac-10 tournament," Thomas said.
Washington trailed by 14 in the second half but got to within four of USC four times after that, three times in the final 25 seconds. Thomas scored on a layup and was inexplicably fouled by Maurice Jones with 23 seconds remaining. But Thomas' free throw spun out to keep it 58-54 Trojans.
After two free throws by USC's Jio Fontan, Overton scored with 15 second to go to make it 60-56. But USC's Donte Smith hit two free throws with 14 seconds left to keep the Trojans up by six. Thomas scored an uncontested layin, then the Huskies stole the inbounds pass. Suggs tipped in a Thomas miss in the lane, and UW trailed 62-60 with 1.8 seconds left.
But the Trojans (18-13, 10-8) successfully controlled the final inbounds pass and the clock expired on the frantic final seconds.
Holiday, playing in front of his parents, grandmother, an aunt, uncle and cousin up from Southern California for his home finale, limped off the floor after re-injuring the top of his right foot late in the opening half. He came back to start the second half, called it a "tweak" afterward and said he will be fine for the Pac-10 tournament.
The co-captain feels the same way about his inconsistent team.
"I think we're OK mentally," Holiday said. "This might help us out, having our backs against the wall.
"I think we're still going to be all right."