LAS VEGAS — Explanations from Washington participants will be read with a “phew” connotation instead of as excuses.
There’s no getting around it. After leading by 19 points in the second half before barely escaping with a 64-62 win over Washington State in Wednesday’s opening round of the Pac-12 tournament, the Washington Huskies know they were lucky to get out with their dignity still intact.
Abdul Gaddy, UW’s point guard, lamented the Huskies entering “chill mode” upon securing a large lead.
Said coach Lorenzo Romar, reverting to cliché mode: “We dodged a bullet.”
Uh, yeah. A couple of them. And if not for an iffy no-call on Brock Motum’s please-foul-me 3-point attempt trailing by two points on WSU’s final offensive possession – and an unlikely, game-deciding bucket from sophomore forward Desmond Simmons a little more than a minute prior – the Huskies might instead be waiting on the NIT or CBI committees to extend their season.
Instead, Washington (18-14) faces Oregon at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in a quarterfinal game at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The Ducks swept the Huskies this season.
“We just had the third one against Washington State,” Romar said. “The only difference is we’ve not beaten Oregon this year, so hopefully we can be at our best and turn that around.”
UW was at its best for most of Wednesday’s first half and played well into the second, too. The Huskies extended their defensive pressure, denied WSU’s wings and forced the Cougars to shoot just 41 percent in the first half and commit eight turnovers.
The only WSU players to score in the game’s first 32 minutes were Motum, Royce Woolridge and D.J. Shelton. UW led 27-12 early and 36-25 at halftime.
And senior point guard Abdul Gaddy made the offensive end of things look fairly basic, tossing alley-oops to Aziz N’Diaye and Shawn Kemp, racking up 11 assists and leading UW to a 52-33 lead with 14:29 to play.
Even after a WSU mini-run cut the lead to 56-47 with 9:46 to play, Scott Suggs shook loose for 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to push UW back ahead by 15.
“I’ve just been able to make shots and play hard,” said Suggs, whose 19 points led the Huskies. The senior has scored in double-figures in each of UW’s last five games.
But Motum, another senior, had his say in this one. He scored eight of WSU’s points during the 15-0 run that lasted nearly five minutes and resulted in a 62-62 tie after Woolridge made a layup with 2:52 to go.
Ugly possessions ensued for both teams, though Simmons was able to sneak loose for a short jumper that wound up the only points scored by either team in the final 2:52.
“I dove pick-and-roll, dumped it down, took a dribble,” Simmons said. “One dribble going to my right. He cut me off, spin back, go up with it. Got it to go in.”
Woolridge threw the ball out of bounds on WSU’s next possession, but Gaddy missed another 3-pointer and the Cougars had the ball with 14 seconds left, trailing by two points.
It was no secret the ball was going to Motum. He caught it on the right wing, sensed that UW guard Andrew Andrews was too close to him, and raised for a 3-pointer.
He missed. No foul was called. Andrews rebounded, the Cougars fouled, and the Huskies inbounded after a timeout and dribbled out WSU’s season.
Motum thought there was enough contact to merit a whistle. It’s a call he’s been given several times throughout his impressive Cougars career. Just not this time.
“I thought he reached in, and I shot a three. I thought I drew a foul. I heaved it up there trying to get three shots,” Motum said.
The loss was WSU’s (13-19) sixth this season by two or fewer points. That will be the legacy of the 2012-13 Cougars, a group that managed to remain close in just about every game it played.
They just didn’t win many of them. Or this one.
“It’s happened quite a bit this year, and I think the really good teams around the country win those games,” said Bone, adding that he’s “not concerned” about his job status or whether it might be in jeopardy. “This year, we were not a really good team.”