The senior sharpshooter scores 20 points but takes just 4 shots after halftime before fouling out. That, turnovers and porous defense add up to a lost opportunity for better seeding in next week’s conference tournament. Washington (16-14, 8-9 Pac-12) hosts USC in the regular-season finale Saturday.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Leave it to beyond-his-years freshman Nigel Williams-Goss to cut to the essence of what’s left for the Huskies now.
“Obviously we are playing for seeding. … Our mindset is still the same,” Williams-Goss said late Thursday night, referring to next week’s win-it-all-or-go-home Pac-12 tournament.
“This game didn’t make or break us.”
It didn’t. But it did make Washington’s road back to the NCAA tournament more arduous than it could have been.
C.J. Wilcox was hot in his next-to-last home game of his Huskies’ career, swishing rainbows from all over. UW had the lead over the Pac-12’s second-place team. Alaska Airlines Arena was rockin’.
Then Wilcox didn’t take a shot for the first 5 minutes of the second half. He picked up his third foul with 14 minutes left and sat for the next 5. And the Huskies’ night instantly U-turned -- because of turnovers and their defense not getting back quickly enough against UCLA’s fast-break probes and scores.
Wilcox’s 20 points before he fouled out came with only four attempts in the second half, while UCLA rallied for four points down to a 91-82 victory Thursday.
The loss cost Washington a chance at finishing as high as potentially fourth in the conference.
“It came down to defense,” said Wilcox, who was 7 for 13 but only 2 for 4 when the game was decided in the second half.
“We just didn’t get stops,” Williams-Goss said.
Defense and the turnovers were how Washington (16-14, 8-9 Pac-12) lost for the first time since Nov. 24, 2008, versus Kansas in Kansas City, Mo., while shooting 55 percent or better.
“We had the opportunity tonight. We could have been as a high as a four seed (with a potential first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament),” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We let that slip through our fingers.”
Williams-Goss continued his sterling freshman season with 17 points and eight assists in 36 minutes. But he also had five, uncharacteristic turnovers. Andrew Andrews added 17 points – but had three turnovers. Perris Blackwell had 13 points and 10 rebounds – and two turnovers – off the bench.
It was that kind of night for the Huskies. When they weren’t making shots they were dribbling the ball off their own legs. And jumping into the air with nowhere to pass. Or inbounding the ball directly to Bruins – once after UW had twice called timeout to set up a play.
UW had nine of its 13 turnovers in the second half, “out of nowhere” against UCLA’s zone that didn’t change, as Romar put it. The turnovers fueled easy transition scores for the Bruins, who were running and pushing the pace even before the gift chances as the Huskies struggled to get back in time or far enough on defense.
“A lot of our turnovers just led to fast-break points and got them going,” Wilcox said.
UCLA’s Jordan Adams seized most on all the freebies. Five of his six baskets in the second-half came on layups, and all but one of those scores came off UW turnovers. He finished with a career-high 31 points.
The Bruins held a 23-10 edge in points off turnovers, despite rarely playing anything but a 2-3 zone defense.
So Washington will end its the regular season against last-place USC at Alaska Airlines Arena Saturday afternoon unable to finish any higher than sixth and potentially as low as ninth in the league. An eighth or ninth seed means a potential second-round game against conference regular-season champion Arizona.
The Huskies will leave Tuesday morning for Las Vegas and a first-round game in the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday. If you agree with Williams-Goss and most Huskies’ mindset that they had to win the tournament anyway, even before this loss, to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years then the task hasn’t changed.
As Romar ruefully said, “At this point, yeah, we don’t have any choice but to think that way.”
The Huskies trailed UCLA (23-7, 12-5) by seven within the first 3 minutes, then Andrews and Wilcox led a 9-0 run. The rest of the half was a wild shootout, with the lead changing 17 times. The Huskies’ 20-for-34, 58.8-percent shooting was their highest for a first half this season, and they lead 45-41 at the break.
Wilcox had 13 in the opening period, 5 for 8 from the field and 3 for 6 from deep. He ended up fouling out for the first time in 55 games, since Dec. 13, 2012, at Seattle U.
UCLA scored the first six points of the second half, off three Washington turnovers in its first five possessions after halftime. That plus the Huskies not getting back on defense -- or switching when they were supposed to, or not helping when teammates got beaten on drives -- kept UW’s 61-percent shooting through the game’s first 25 minutes from producing a sizeable lead for the home team.
“There was a point in the second half when we began not trusting on defense,” Romar said. “We were thinking ‘My man’s a good player. If I leave him he’s going to score. You get two, three guys thinking that way it’s going to hurt you.
“With the turnovers, that’s a recipe for disaster.”
But, as Williams-Goss and Wilcox say, not for the end of all hope.
“We just have to get ready for USC,” Wilcox said, “and try to get some momentum for the Pac-12 tournament.”
That they now must win.