Huskies Storm Back, Then Lose At End To Oregon St.
March 8, 2012
By Gregg Bell
The two guards relentlessly pushed the ball into the lane to lead a mammoth Huskies comeback from 13-points down at halftime to Oregon State. They turned that into an eight-point lead faster than you can say, "Pac-12 champs."
Yet after this excruciating afternoon was over, they were like all Huskies: Inconsolable.
Wroten set a UW freshman scoring record for a game with 29 points and added seven rebounds, but he missed four free throws in the final 18 seconds that could have avoided what happened next: The top-seeded Huskies' stunning, 86-84 loss to ninth-seeded Oregon State Thursday afternoon in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals at Staples Center.
The Huskies (21-10), the outright regular-season champions of the league for the second time in 59 years, made just 12 of 26 free throws. They were 9-21 from the line in the second half. They also continually let the Beavers (18-13) roam the lane for put-back scores plus get open outside for key jump shots.
That's how the Dawgs put their NCAA tournament chances in jeopardy.
The Huskies' fate is now up to what amounts to a referendum on what the tournament selection committee thinks of the Pac-12.
"I'm not in there with the committee. I know we haven't won as many games as we should have in non-conference as a league. But I would think the Pac-12 champion would be able to find a place in the NCAA tournament," said Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar, who has been to six NCAAs in his first nine seasons leading UW. "We certainly didn't help ourselves today, but I would think we'd be able to find ourselves in there."
"But I am not on the committee. The committee, they're meeting. And we're kind of at the mercy of their decision."
The last time a team not on a postseason ban led the league in regular-season conference wins yet failed to make the NCAA tournament: 1953.
The 68-team tournament field will be announced Sunday afternoon. The three days until then?
Well, as Wilcox said to sum up this entire day for UW, "it's not going to be fun."
What was hard to fathom just five days ago - the Pac-12 outright champions scraping into an NCAA "First Four" play-in game Tuesday or Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio - is not only conceivable now for UW. It might be a best-case scenario, after losses at UCLA Saturday and this stunner Thursday.
"I don't know," Gaddy said, sighing and shaking his head as he soaked in ice his right elbow, which the junior captain painfully hyperextended but played through in the second half. "Ever since I've been here we've always had that guaranteed feeling of being in the NCAA tournament.
"I'm scared we might not get in."
Wroten was particularly distraught. The 18-year-old Pac-12 freshman of the year sat with his head bowed and a towel over his shoulder inside the Huskies' stone-silent locker room. Without looking up, he shrugged when asked where his team would go from here or whether he thought it would make the NCAAs. Then he politely declined to answer any more questions.
Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward came over a minute later and patted Wroten on the shoulder. Wroten barely looked up yet appreciated the gesture.
Romar's message to his players moments earlier, after Washington dropped to 1-2 all-time in the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed? It's a lesson the Huskies now desperately hope to have a chance to build on in the NCAA tournament.
"All those times you talk about executing little things and sometimes it seems like it's boring, or it's `We get the same message all the time, it's not that big a deal.' That's why you talk about those things," the coach said. "And tonight those things cost us: Not boxing out. Not closing out on shooters at times. Not taking care of the ball in certain situations.
"Those things were the difference in the game," Romar said later, in a dark hallway of the massive arena. "You know, we missed free throws down the stretch. But no one is trying to miss free throws."
The Huskies snoozed on defense and on the boards in the first half, not communicating and not moving their feet. It was a baffling start, given so much at stake.
"We stopped rebounding and came out flat," Ross said. "It was just us. Everything was us. That's why we lost."
A frantic, almost desperate, 29-7 run after the break had the Huskies in control. Wroten soared for a nasty put-back dunk off a miss by Wilcox and Washington led 66-58 with 8½ minutes left.
But the Huskies missed eight of 16 free throws over the final 8 minutes, reviving Oregon State. Wilcox, second in the Pac-12 with a free-throw percentage of 85.7 this regular season, missed two straight. So did Ross, a 75-percent shooter at the line.
"I can't really explain it," Wilcox said, shaking his head.
Wroten, a 57.5-percent foul shooter this season, was the only Husky consistently hitting his foul shots -- until the final minute. He set the Huskies scoring record for a freshman in a game when he made his fifth and sixth consecutive foul shots, with 1:17 remaining. That put Washington up 83-79.
Ahmad Starks answered with a 3-pointer over Washington's zone, which again didn't jump out quickly enough to defend the jump shooter. Ross then charged trying to drive from the right wing, and Oregon State leader Jared Cunningham, the top scorer in the conference, moved inside to put the Beavers up 84-83 with 31 seconds to play.
Wroten kept driving, drawing a foul and two free throws with 18 seconds left. But the Huskies' leading scorer missed both.
Cunningham kept UW alive by missing two ensuing foul shots, then inexplicably fouled Wroten 30 feet from the basket on the sideline with 9 seconds left and Oregon State still leading by 1. But Wroten missed both chances for redemption - and Washington's final chance to take the lead - with 9 seconds to go.
As Washington fouled Cunningham following the second miss, Wroten yanked the front of his white Huskies jersey from inside his waistband and slowly pulled it over his face.
Cunningham made both free throws this time to make it 86-83. Then Oregon State smartly fouled Ross with 2 seconds on the clock, before he could launch a potential 3-pointer to tie. Ross made the first free throw to make it a two-point game.
Romar put on a play of offensive rebounders switching across the lane as Ross intentionally missed the second foul shot in hopes of a miraculous put-back score that would have sent the game to overtime. But the sophomore's miss was a line-drive laser beam that hit nothing but glass and bounded back toward him without hitting the rim. That, by rule, gave the ball to Oregon State for inbounding and essentially ended it.
"In Terrence's zeal to get it to come off, he shot a little too hard there," Romar said.
So ended the Huskies' quest for a third consecutive league tournament title, only two hours after it began.
Romar wasn't worried about any lasting effects or head-hanging from Wroten, his ultra-driven, ultra-talented freshman.
"He's a champion. He's a winner," Romar said. "He was making all of them (for a stretch) before that.
"He played an incredible game."
As for lasting effects for the Huskies, we'll all find out Sunday.