With a boisterous Senior Day crowd urging them on, the Washington Huskies had a splendid opportunity to deny UCLA a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title Saturday at Alaska Airlines Arena. Instead, Washington booted away a winnable game in the final six minutes by committing too many turnovers, clanking too many free throws and failing to knock down makeable shots.
UCLA’s 61-54 victory snapped Washington’s three-game winning streak and marked the Bruins’ first victory in Seattle since Jan. 10, 2004. Coupled with Oregon’s loss at Utah Saturday, the Bruins won the Pac-12 title outright and earned the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament starting Wednesday in Las Vegas.
The one bit of good news for Washington came after the game when the Huskies, thanks to tiebreakers and Washington State beating USC 76-51 Sunday in Pullman, drew the No. 6 seed and will face No. 11 seed WSU in the 8:30 p.m. finale of the first round. The Huskies were one of four teams in the epically mediocre Pac-12 to finish 9-9, but drew the highest seem along them.
The seeds: 1. UCLA, 2. Cal, 3. Oregon, 4. Arizona, 5. Colorado, 6. UW, 7. USC, 8. Stanford, 9. ASU, 10. Utah, 11. WSU, 12. OSU.
By bracket (top four draw first-round byes):
8. Stanford vs. 9. Arizona State, winner plays No. 1 UCLA
5. Colorado vs. 12. Oregon State, winner plays No. 4 seed Arizona
No. 7 USC vs. No. 10 Utah, winner plays No. 2 Cal
No. 6 Washington vs. No 11 WSU, winner plays No. 3 Oregon.
The Huskies had every chance to extend their home winning streak over the Bruins to nine in a row, but had too many self-inflicted wounds.
The Huskies committed 19 turnovers, which UCLA converted into 29 points (Washington scored just nine points off Bruins turnovers), meaning that UCLA scored nearly half of its points off Husky miscues.
Equally odious, Washington (17-14 overall, 9-9 Pac-12) made just three of nine free throws and was outscored 11-2 in the final six minutes.
“I can’t talk a lot about a whole lot more about this game than the 29 points UCLA got off our turnovers,” said head coach Lorenzo Romar. “If you are going to do that, you’re putting yourself in a tough position to win the game. It was very similar to the game we played against them in Los Angeles (a 59-57 UCLA win) when they scored 19 points off turnovers.
“We give them a lot of credit. This is how they’ve been able to win the league title. I thought we competed, and I thought we did a lot of good things. But we couldn’t overcome those turnovers. The only difference today was not taking care of the ball.”
Two UCLA freshmen, Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams, both came up big for the Bruins, especially in the second half. Muhammad, bound for the NBA, finished with 21 points while Adams had 17.
“Some teams that you play against, everywhere you turn, they’re right there. I thought we got pretty good shots at the basket a lot of times, but — especially those freshmen — they’re basketball players. With Muhammad, there was a point in the game where you could see it in his eyes. His attitude was that he was not going to let his team lose. He really brought it in the second half. He’s not going to be a lottery pick for nothing.”
Washington blew out to an 11-4 lead and had a 31-26 edge with three minutes left in the first half. Shawn Kemp Jr. had eight of Washington’s first 22 points. But the Bruins pulled within 31-30 at the half, UCLA collecting 11 of its 30 first-half points off seven Washington turnovers.
Washington committed four quick turnovers to open the second half and had five turnovers in its first nine possessions to fall behind 40-33 at the 16:02 mark. Despite the mounting turnover total, poor foul shooting and C.J. Wilcox’s inability to find the hoop, the Huskies stayed within striking distance.
The Huskies finally tied the game on a jumper by Abdul Gaddy and went ahead on a layup by Andrew Andrews with 8:56 to play, then went ice cold. With just over three minutes remaining, UW and UCLA were tied at 52, the Huskies remaining in it with two huge blocks by Aziz N’Diaye (he did pushups on the court after the second one) and a five-point burst by Andrews inside a minute of play.
UW got virtually nothing after that (at one point in the second half, UW went five minutes without a basket). Wilcox twice had 3-point attempts go in — and pop back out. He made just three of 13 shots and missed his final seven.
In the final two and a half minutes, the Bruins began to creep away from the Huskies with foul shots. Then, with 32 seconds to play, UCLA’s Larry Drew II drove the lane for a basket, giving the Bruins a 59-54 lead and sealing the win. Drew also hit the game-winning shot against the Huskies when the teams met in Los Angeles Feb. 7.
“It was a tough loss,” said Gaddy, who had eight points and four assists in his final regular-season home game. “We played hard, but too many shots went in and out and we turned the ball over too many times.”
“We wanted to come in here and finish this season on a wining streak so we gave a lot of effort today,” said senior Scott Suggs. “It was fun, I wish we could have given the fans a win.”
Suggs led Washington with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting while Kemp finished with 10. Desmond Simmons came off the bench to lead the Huskies with 11 rebounds.
“We’ll just pick up like we’ve done before,” said Romar. “We’ll practice tomorrow and we’ll be ready to go next week (in the Pac-12 tournament).”