Freshman Darin Johnson ties his career high with 16 points. Nigel Williams-Goss scores 15, then misses a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left that would have tied it. C.J. Wilcox scores 14 but is just 4 for 15 from the field in what could be his final game for UW (17-15). Next: Waiting for the NIT to call.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
LAS VEGAS –C.J. Wilcox wiped his face with the bottom of his purple jersey as he walked off the floor for perhaps the final time as a Husky. The fifth-year senior’s sharpshooting eyes looked directly ahead. His head was high – and that’s where it stayed well after his team's abrupt exit from the Pac-12 tournament on its first day sunk it.
“I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here. It’s been a lot of years,” Huskies’ No. 2 career scorer said. “Being under (coach Lorenzo) Romar he’s helped me grow in a lot of ways, on and off the floor.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done.”
Freshman Nigel Williams-Goss stared ahead, stunned. Junior Desmond Simmons held a towel down on his head with both hands on top.
The Huskies’ frantic comeback -- from 10 points down at halftime into the lead late in their first-round game of the Pac-12 tournament -- ended stunningly. Stingingly.
Freshman Darin Johnson was wondrous, driving and bulling his way to a career high-tying 16 points. Williams-Goss had 15, but missed a 3-pointer from beyond the top of the key that would have tied it with 18 seconds left. Wilcox scored 14 -- but was just 4 for 15 from the field. And the ninth-seeded Huskies lost 67-61 to eighth-seeded Utah Wednesday afternoon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“Proud of our guys for battling back in the second half. Thought our guys played hard, played tough,” Romar said. “We did things for most of that half that in a lot of games would allow you to win.
“Down the stretch we weren’t able to make the plays.”
Specially, inside the final minute.
Desmond Simmons had 10 points and nine rebounds, including a tip-in and 3-point play with 1:23 remaining that put the Huskies (17-15, 9-9 Pac-12 regular season) ahead 59-58. Simmons then made a tough catch in traffic under the rim of a rocket pass from Williams-Goss and drew a foul. Simmons converted one of two free throws to tie the game at 60 with 1 minute to go.
But then Utah’s Dakarai Tucker found himself alone in the far corner with 38 seconds remaining. He swished a 3-pointer to put the Utes (21-10, 9-9) ahead 63-60.
Washington (17-15, 9-9 Pac-12 regular season) called timeout to set up an inside play to Perris Blackwell for a quick two points. But Utah’s big men took that away. Williams-Goss looked at Wilcox on the left wing, but Wilcox had Utes running at him.
So the freshman sized up the four inches he had on Utah’s Brandon Taylor and let a shot fly from beyond the top of the key.
It was the same shot that Williams-Goss, selected Monday for the Pac-12’s all-freshman team, made late to help UW beat Oregon in January at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“I had the size advantage over Taylor,” Williams-Goss said, “so I took the top-of-the-key 3.”
But this time, it missed.
Asked if it was any doubt the Huskies would be in the NIT when pairings for that are announced Sunday night, Romar said flatly: “Yes.
“We’re not sure.”
He added it’s the only tournament outside the NCAA one that the Huskies are considering now. And that NIT thinking began only after this defeat.
Wilcox, Johnson, Williams-Goss and other Huskies say they want to keep playing.
“There’s still the NIT,” Wilcox said. “We’re not sure about that, but we are going to hang our hopes on that and see what happens.”
Johnson said simply: “I don’t want to go out like this.”
He sure played like that Wednesday, after the Huskies had made their task far more difficult in the first half.
UW shot just 27 percent and trailed by 10 at halftime. Then Williams-Goss, playing 15 minutes from where he went to high school and in front of two dozen or more friends and family, scored the first four points of the second half. Wilcox swished a 3 from the right wing. Simmons made scrappy plays for loose balls, steals, blocks and rebounds.
“We knew what was at stake,” Williams-Goss said. “We knew what was on the line. That’s why we came out like that in the second half.”
When Johnson drove from the left wing into the lane and scored with his left hand, UW led 41-40 with 11:30 to go. It was the Dawgs’ first lead on Utah (21-10, 9-9) since 2-0.
Johnson just kept driving, no matter how many Utes were in his way.
“No, you never have to tell him to attack the basket,” Romar said of his at-times bold guard. “That’s what he does.”
Knowing starting guard Andrew Andrews was sick with what he believes was food poisoning and with Wilcox cold, the freshman from Sacramento played with a sense of empowerment in the second half. He blew away his scoring average of 5.6 points per game coming in and ending up with 17 for the first time since the opener against Seattle University was back on Nov. 10.
“We expect more of that from him in the future,” Romar said. “Next year with C.J. leaving guys are going to have to step up and make plays. And he’s one of the main ones.”
Wilcox was 2 for 7 in the first half, and had to back off defensively for the final 10 minutes of it after getting his second foul. Romar spent the half bringing his captain into and back out of the game in the dual aims of preservation and staying in the game.
The Huskies trailed by 10 after 9 minutes, and Wilcox had two fouls. Romar felt he had to bring UW’s second-leading career scorer back in to stay close, and Wilcox’s first 3 of the game soon after brought the Huskies within 18-11.
UW missed five shots at rim, gave up seven offensive rebounds in the first 15 minutes, missed 16 of its first 23 shots, had starting guards Wilcox and Andrews playing with two fouls each -- yet trailed only 30-24 on two free throws with 2:14 left in the first half.
But the Utes scored the final four points of the period to take a 34-24 lead into halftime.
Given the Huskies missed 19 of 26 shots and got out-rebounded 23-14, they had reason to believe the second half would be better.
It’s just wasn’t good enough.
Andrews gutted through 24 minutes while ill, before Johnson picked it up for him. Andrews said he began vomiting at midnight through 10 a.m. Wednesday, and felt only marginally better after an IV 30 minutes prior to tipoff.
“I thought about sitting out, but I wanted to give it a try.”
The Huskies were returning to Seattle Wednesday night and will shoot some on Friday and Saturday; Romar will stay here until after Brandon Roy’s induction into the Pac-12 Basketball Hall of Honor Friday. The team will gather Sunday night for a practice that hope they will have reason to run.
Despite injuries to its front line forcing an in-season switch in defensive philosophy, these Huskies have led this season at San Diego State, were ahead of Connecticut, led at conference regular season-champion Arizona, were up on California, led UCLA at halftime last week and led late in the opener of the Pac-12 tournament.
“We’ve had our opportunities, you know,” Romar said. “We’ve had our opportunities.
“And we didn’t capitalize on them.”