Photo credit: McClatchy Newspapers – Ethan Hyman
This was supposed to be the season when Washington broke the Sweet 16 barrier, but in the end the Huskies couldn’t make it out of the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.
Blame their mid-season three-game losing streak. Blame their inconsistent performances at the end of the regular season when they were 2-3 in the last five games.
And blame a slew of mistakes in the final six minutes of their 86-83 defeat to No. 2 North Carolina.
Washington had the perfect plan to beat the Tar Heels. The Huskies built an 11-point lead. They absorbed a physical assault from UNC’s Tyler Zeller (23 points) and John Henson (10 points and 10 rebounds). Harrison Barnes peppered them with four three-pointers and Kendall Marshall picked apart the UW defense with 14
free throws assists.
All five UNC starters scored in double figures.
Despite it all, the Huskies had a chance to win. They didn’t play their best game, but they were right there at the end.
Ultimately Washington ran into a better, taller team for a second straight year. West Virginia pushed UW out of the tournament last year and the Huskies made it their mission to get bigger and stronger.
They added 7-foot center Aziz N’Diaye, who played a marvelous game. But the Huskies needed more.
They converted 10 of 19 three-pointers, which is an amazing percentage. But they needed more.
They outrebounded North Carolina 40-37 and they took 72 shots, six more than UNC.
The Huskies also received 41 points from their bench – UNC had 5 – and still it wasn’t enough.
Washington had difficulty keeping Zeller and Marshall out of the paint and fouled them repeatedly. They went to the free throw line 14 times and made 13. UNC was 18 of 23 on free throws, while the Huskies were 7 of 7.
Somehow Matthew Bryan-Amaning (above) didn’t draw a foul, which was eerily reminiscent of the game at Arizona when he didn’t take a free throw.
Still, the referees didn’t lose this game.
Washington couldn’t overcome its mistakes, specifically five turnovers in the final 5:40. At that time, the Huskies led 76-73. But UW managed just three field goals, seven points and converted 3 of 10 shots the rest of the game.
“We told our guys at the end that this was very unfortunate,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Whenever you don’t win the last game, it’s very, very disappointing. But our guys rallied up and this is what we told them, we rallied up. By the end of the year I thought we had become a really good basketball team.
“And even in this game today, I think we did a lot of things right that could lead you to a victory just down the stretch. We didn’t make the plays that were necessary to allow us to be in the victory circle.”
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
Photo credit: Seattle Times – Dean Rutz
— Terrence Ross (above) moved to the bench, but for long stretches he was Washington’s best player. His scoring kept the Huskies in the game. He scored a team-high 19 points and converted 7 of 10 shots, including a two difficult layups in traffic. Considering the circumstances, it might have been his best game this season. He paired up with Barnes, one of the top freshmen in the country, and nearly matched him basket for basket.
Still that’s not to suggest it was a perfect game for the freshman. Ross committed a few defensive gaffes as well as costly turnover in the final three minutes that led to fast break layup. The basket put UNC ahead 84-78.
“I wasn’t really paying attention to him at the time,” Ross said. “I was looking, you know, to see the play develop and I wasn’t strong with the ball and he got it.”
— Bryan-Amaning was the last UW player to leave the court. The senior forward was emotionally shaken by the defeat and spoke in hushed tones inside the cramped locker room after the game. Bryan-Amaning was at a loss to explain the late-game miscues. “Just uncharacteristic,” he said.
He finished with 14 points and eight rebounds in his final UW game. He also had two steals.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Bryan-Amaning said. “We did everything we could to get this win. I don’t know why we lost. I know we were never out of it. I know we never gave up.”
— Isaiah Thomas (left) didn’t shoot very well (5 of 15), but he finished with 12 points and eight assists. He also had two steals and two rebounds, which offset three turnovers. Late in the game, Thomas created baskets for Bryan-Amaning and Scott Suggs, he took just one shot in the final 5:40 aside from the last-second attempt.
Thomas hemmed and hawed when addressing his return next season before tweeting he’s coming back. Still that doesn’t mean he won’t test the NBA draft waters.
— N’Diaye helped Washington control the glass. He finished with a game-high 11 rebounds, the most since Jan. 15. He also had five offensive rebounds. N’Diaye must develop some type of low-post game in the offseason. He tallied four points.
— C.J. Wilcox came off the bench and scored 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting in 19 minutes.
— Suggs started the final game of the season, which tells you how far he’s come. He forced a turnover and dunked in the first half and dropped an important three-pointer with 17 seconds left that cut UW’s deficit to 84-83. Suggs finished with eight points in 17 minutes.
— Darnell Gant appears to have a promising future if he can capitalize on his final four games this season when he averaged nearly 6.8 rebounds per game. Today he had six rebounds and six points. He sank two three-pointers and dished out two assists.
— Venoy Overton pointed out that he played just 12 minutes and told reporters after the game that he wasn’t the best option on the next-to-last shot when he threw a half-court shot out of bounds.
— Justin Holiday (below) said he wanted the young guys on the team to make it to the Sweet 16 so they could know what he experienced last year. He took the defeat hard and accepted responsibility for mistakes that led to the loss. Something happened to Holiday several weeks ago. He lost confidence in his jumper, which seemed to affect every part of his game. He missed his last 14 three-pointers and perhaps wisely didn’t attempt a trey today. Still, Holiday misfired on 4 of 6 shots and finished with four points. He also committed three turnovers, including two in the final 5:40. The last one with 7.4 seconds left may have been the most costly.
“We made dumb mistakes,” Holiday said. “I made turnovers that shouldn’t be made by a senior like myself. Some other guys made mistakes here and there. We fought though. I know that. We didn’t give up.”