The Huskies had their best start of the season, but the Huskies from the east, UConn, had too many smarts down the stretch and won going away.
Listening to Washington coach Lorenzo Romar Sunday after his team’s latest setback, an 82-70 loss to No. 10 Connecticut (10-1) at Alaska Airlines Arena, it was clear why his Huskies were letting wins slip away.
“I just think we have to mature,” Romar said after the Huskies (6-5) committed 16 turnovers. “Right now we are not mature enough to handle runs from the other team. We are not mature enough to handle the adversity that comes along throughout your season.”
For the opening 13 minutes, the Huskies played their best basketball of the season. They were patient offensively and active defensively, racing to a 31-17 lead with 7:21 left in the first half. They occasionally mixed in a 2-3 zone with Romar’s trademark extended man-to-man and were able to frustrate UConn guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright, a backcourt duo that entered the game averaging a combined 26.5 points per game.
UW forward Desmond Simmons made his first appearance of the season after missing the first 10 games following arthroscopic knee surgery. The 6-foot-7 junior provided a spark, scoring a quick five points by knocking in a wide open three and a pair of free throws.
For the first time this season, Alaska Airlines Arena felt like it could shake.
Then in the final eight minutes of the first half, as UW guard C.J. Wilcox later explained, the Huskies let their foot off UConn’s gullet. The East Coast Huskies began pressuring, using a half-court trap that flustered UW’s Andrew Andrews and Nigel Williams-Goss. The West Coast Huskies began committing turnovers, taking wild shots, airmailing passes, allowing cutters to run freely, giving Napier and Boatwright driving lanes.
UConn finished the first half on a 26-8 run to take a 43-39 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“We knew they were going to (go on a) run. That was one of our keys on our scout was that they were a team of runs, and when they make a run it’s usually like a 10-point or 13-point run, which is exactly what they did,” said Andrews, who finished with eight points, three assists and three turnovers. “It was something we were prepared for. We just had to do a little bit better executing on offense, executing our passes and just taking care of the ball.”
C.J. Wilcox led UW with 19 points (six of 15 from the field), adding three rebounds to go along with four assists. He cut UConn’s lead to 53-48 about five minutes into the second half and to 68-60 on a layin through traffic with 6:50 left, but the Huskies couldn’t get any closer because they weren’t valuing the ball and couldn’t contain Napier (20 points) and Boatwright (16 points).
The Huskies shot 39 percent in the second half after posting a 48 percent mark in the first. The drop-off, Romar said, was attributed to the 11 second-half turnovers.
“I think it was mostly us who had a lot of unforced turnovers,” Wilcox said. “We haven’t been taking care of the ball the past couple games. Same story tonight. Their defense has something to do with it, but we could have taken care of the ball better.”
Romar intimated the Huskies were struggling more with focus than effort, more with the learning curve that comes from playing freshman Williams-Goss and freshman wing Darin Johnson (13 points, zero rebounds and an assist in 26 minutes), than talent disparity.
And yes, the turnovers don’t help.
“I think the turnover story was maybe the difference in the game,” Romar said. “Credit UConn. They have a lot of quickness out front. They anticipate well, and we didn’t do a very good job of taking care of the basketball. I don’t think that was just the second half. I don’t think all game we did that. That’s been a recurring issue in the last four games.”
“That bit us in the butt,” he said.
Williams-Goss labored for the second straight game. The All-America pick from Findlay Prep spent half of the second half on the bench in foul trouble, save for a little garbage time when a win was out of reach and fans had filed to the exits. In 25 minutes, Williams-Goss shot three-of-10 from the field, made three turnovers and accounted for zero assists.
“He’ll be fine. You have a lot of freshmen that go through (that in a) season,” Romar said. “A lot of time they start out gangbusters, then they go through a lull. The good ones bounce back. He’ll bounce back.”
The Huskies need to follow suit. They play Mississippi Valley State and Hartford at home this week before beginning Pac-12 play Jan. 2 against Arizona State.