Despite the return of injured Washington starters Scott Suggs and Shawn Kemp Jr., there was no celebration as Nevada beat the Huskies 76-73 Saturday night at Alaska Airlines Arena, the third non-conference home loss this season for the Huskies (4-4).
Washington used a 20-2 run to erase a 53-35 second-half deficit, but had no answer for Deonte Burton, the Western Athletic Conference’s player of the year last season. The Wolf Pack’s all-conference junior guard scored 29 points, including his team’s final nine on three three-pointers in the closing minutes, to thwart the UW rally.
Burton’s heroics, which included a career-high six steals, were a near-repeat from last season in Reno, when the the Wolf Pack surprised the Huskies by the same score, only in overtime. Burton had 31 points in that game.
Deja vu,” said UW coach Lorenzo Romar. “Same thing as last year. Burton hit some tough shots that were highly contested. But we got ourselves in a too big a hole in the first half.”
After a four-game absence due to plantar fascitis, Suggs went 35 minutes and scored 19 points, but missed 11 of 19 shots and was limping by the end of the game. His long minutes were partly due to the absence of Andrew Andrews, who sprained an ankle at the end of practice Friday and missed the game.
His defensive skills were missed early, according to Romar.
“I was more disappointed in our defensive lapses, as opposed to the ball not going into the basket,” he said. “In the first half, we had about 14 points worth of breakdowns. We can’t have that.”
Washington’s inability to have its full complement of players seems to be Romar’s biggest problem.
“I like the way we’re going to be — when we have our full team,” Romar said. “We’re going to get through this.”
Suggs was in the starting lineup, as was Desmond Simmons in place of Jernard Jarreau. But the 6-7 forward missed all seven of his shots, and as a team, the Huskies missed 15 of their first 18 tries in another listless start. Point guard Abdul Gaddy picked up three fouls in the first 10 minutes as the Huskies struggled to make a pass, much less a shot.
At the half, UW had nine turnovers, two assists and shot 32 percent, trailing 34-26. Leading scorer C.J. Wilcox did not score until almost 13 minutes were gone, although he rallied in the second half to top Washington with 21 points.
The lethargy continued in the second half before Suggs and Wilcox heated up to bring the Huskies back. Pressuring Nevada into turnovers, UW had back-to-back three from Wilcox and Suggs to finally get the lead, 62-61, with 5:17 left, waking up a crowd announced optimistically at 7,724.
Things stayed tight until Burton backed up at the top of the key and stroked an NBA-distance 3-ball for a 70-66 lead inside three minutes.
At the 1:50 mark, Burton did it again, this time from the corner, jackknifing his body for another 3 and a 73-68 lead. The Wolf Pack (5-4) stayed steady thereafter while Gaddy forced three consecutive shots that left the Huskies with nothing.
Kemp returned almost a month earlier than forecasted from a torn patellar tendon his knee, playing 18 minutes and scoring five points, but Romar wasn’t happy Kemp didn’t see the ball.
“Shawn played really well,” Romar said. “Our guys have to quickly learn to get him the ball. We passed him up a few times.”
After a second consecutive loss to a Mountain West team, Washington takes on crosstown rival Seattle University at KeyArena Thursday.