Photo credit: Getty Images – Jim McIsaac
Little later than normal recap, but then this wasn’t a normal game. I spent most of the evening after Washington’s 69-56 defeat to West Virginia talking to players, coaches, Husky fans and supporters trying to figure out what happened and where does this team go from here.
Despite the 13-point defeat, there was a great feeling of regret inside the UW locker room. Every player felt as if they let a great opportunity slip away.
“We lost,” Isaiah Thomas (above) said. “We’re mad because our season is over.”
Quincy Pondexter summed things up when he said: “It’s a real strange feeling because we feel like we still have another game.”
There’s no more games for Washington this season. After a remarkable late-season resurrection, they finish with a 26-10 record and bow out in the Sweet 16.
It’s the fourth time in 12 years and third time under coach Lorenzo Romar, who suspects critics will now say he can’t win the big game.
“The questions start, ‘Can you ever get past the Sweet 16?’ ” he said. “I never understood why people were so hard on the (Denver) Broncos when they couldn’t quite win the championship. They did make it there. So I feel like we still have accomplished a lot, even though we didn’t make that next step this year.
“But our program is growing. When you compare the last eight years with the history of our program, I think we’ve held our own. And that’s just the next step. We have to get past this. And we’ll work hard to try to.”
Can Romar win the big game? Will he ever advance past the Sweet 16?
Those are questions for another day. In this post, we’ll examine what went right and what went wrong tonight.
Photo credit: Seattle Times – Dean Rutz
— One of the few bright spots for the Huskies was Justin Holiday (above) who gave a glimpse of what his senior season might become when he scored a team-high 14 points, including two three-pointers.
Holiday was the only Husky who didn’t appear bothered by West Virginia’s length. In the first half, he shot over defenders and he used his defense late in the game – when the outcome was decided – to create a couple of turnovers for fast break dunks.
Forget the points, Holiday had an impact on the glass with eight rebounds and he finished with five steals. He had a solid game defensively limiting All-Big East performer Da’Sean Butler to 14 points, seven rebounds and four turnovers.
Holiday was the only starter who didn’t have a turnover.
— Thomas did what he could. There were times when he was surrendering nearly a foot in size to guys like 6-7 Wellington Smith. On one occasion, Smith flung Thomas to the floor, but the officials gave Thomas foul.
It was that kind of night. Despite it all, Thomas gave a valiant effort. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting. He also had four assists, two steals and four turnovers.
— For a stretch I thought Venoy Overton was going to be the MVP of the game. Seriously. His defensive pressure created a havoc and the Mountaineers couldn’t do much of anything.
But as good as Overton was at times – he scored 10 points – he also hurt the cause with five turnovers. Consider Washington had five turnovers in its win over New Mexico.
— Pondexter picked a bad game to have a bad game. He’s been so good down the stretch. He’s been the heart and soul of the Huskies. Washington has followed his lead and tonight was no different.
There was no way the Huskies could win with Pondexter playing just 27 minutes. But his time was limited because he collected his third foul with four minutes remaining in the first half and sat on the bench until intermission.
Pondexter only got it going for a brief stretch. Mostly he was ineffective because of WVU’s long front line. There was a stretch midway in the second quarter that seemed to epitomize his night.
Pondexter held the ball in front of him waiting to set up a play before Devin Ebanks ripped it out of his hands to start a fast break. He would have scored, but was fouled by Thomas, who collected his third foul and would later foul out. Ebanks hit both free throws.
On the next possession, Pondexter spun around Ebanks on the baseline and lofted a short jumper that was blocked by Smith. The play sparked another WVU turnover, foul and free throws.
Photo credit: Getty Images – Jim McIsaac
— Matthew Bryan-Amaning wasn’t as bad as the statics may suggest. His four points were his lowest since Feb. 4, but there were mitigating circumstances for the low output. UW guards had great difficulty getting the ball to Bryan-Amaning when he was open.
Even thought he didn’t score, he did a lot of good things to positively effect the outcome. He had eight rebounds, five blocks, two steals and two assists.
He also had the misfortune of defending Kevin Jones (above) and it was something of a mismatch because Jones could step out and drain three-pointers. He sank 3 of 4 treys and finished with a game-high 18 points.
— Washington was supposed to have the deeper bench, but other than Overton, the reserves didn’t have much of an impact. Elston Turner didn’t get offensively aggressive until Washington fell behind by double digits and he managed just four points.
Darnell Gant played nine minutes and didn’t grab a rebound while Scott Suggs was on the court for three minutes.
— Abdul Gaddy made a strong move when he used a hesitation dribble to break free and score a layup. He also made a fantastic hustle play to secure loose ball. Otherwise, he had a quiet game.
— It was difficult watching West Virginia dominate the Huskies 49-29 on offensive rebounds and 17-0 on second-chance points without thinking what a difference Charles Garcia, the former UW recruit and Seattle University star, might have had in a game like this.
I’ll touch more on this future posts to wrap-up the season, but the difference between Washington and West Virginia is tall, athletic players. Romar knows this. That’s why he went hard after center Josh Smith and that’s why he’s pursuing Terrence Jones and 7-foot junior college prospect Aziz N’Diaye.
Next year the Huskies may have to start three point guards and if they do that, then they’re going to need some more height on the front line other than Bryan-Amaning.
— After the game, the locker room was quiet for several minutes as players with reddened eyes talked in muted voices. But after awhile – and after Nate Robinson and Spencer Hawes came in – guys started to get a little life again.
Robinson can do that. He playfully barked at several players, telling them what they should have done and how they should have responded in the second half when the game was slipping away.
As Robinson talked, the players nodded.
“I felt like it was never going to end,” Thomas said of Washington’s nine-game winning streak. “I felt like we could have made it to the Elite 8, Final Four and the national championship.
“But it is what it is. We lost and it’s over.”