Nevada guard Deonte Burton (left) pounded his chest and partied at midcourt with Wolf Pack students who stormed the court at the Lawlor Events Center while the Huskies were trying to figure how they lost a game that was seemingly in their grasp.
They had this one. They led by as many as 10 points midway in the second half. And they were ahead by five with 21.2 seconds left in regulation.
But the Huskies didn’t finish. That’s what coach Lorenzo Romar said. They also couldn’t slow down Burton, who carried Nevada to an improbable and stunning 76-73 overtime win over Washington.
“We can’t blame anyone else other than ourselves,” Romar said. “We always talk about the last 3 1/2-4 minutes of the game. Take care of the ball. Make our free throws and get stops. We did none of those down the stretch. If we would have done one of them … we win the game.”
The Huskies start five players with NCAA tournament experience, but maybe they’re too young to win this type of game this early in the season.
“I said at the beginning of the year we were going to be up and down with the makeup of our team,” Romar said. “I wish we would come out on top tonight, but we’re going to have our ups and downs with this team. We still have a lot of learning to do. I anticipate us getting better and winning these games down the road.”
Still last night’s defeat was shocking and illuminating.
Just as Washington’s defeat at Saint Louis two weeks ago exposed flaws with the Huskies so did their most recent loss.
In both games, UW was undone by an inability to consistently generate points with half-court sets, a slew of turnovers and a savvy point guard who didn’t succumb to defensive pressure. In fact, Burton appeared to thrive down the stretch and drained big shot after big shot after big shot.
With eight NBA scouts sitting courtside, the 6-1, 185-pound sophomore was clearly the best player on the floor. He was unstoppable while scoring a career-high 31 points. He converted 9 of 18 shots, including 4 of 6 three-pointers. Washington couldn’t slow him down and they sent him to the free throw line 14 times where he made nine. Burton also had six assists and six rebounds to negate four turnovers.
Perhaps just as important as his production, Burton was the emotional leader who was constantly barking at teammates, waving his arms to the crowd and blowing on his fingers after three-pointers.
“He’s not as quick as you would think, but he was really herky-jerky and he was on tonight,” C.J. Wilcox said. “He got started really early and when somebody starts like that, there’s really nothing you can do once he gets going.
“He was hitting everything. Every time he shot it, you kind of expected it to go in.”
Washington needed somebody to match Burton’s energy and no one stepped up. Terrence Ross had good outing on a night when the Huskies needed him to be special.
A year ago, Isaiah Thomas had a special performance against Nevada and Washington won 90-60 at Edmundson Pavilion.
The Huskies needed someone to set the tone early in the game when they stumbled at the start and trailed by as many as eight points (19-11). Washington spent much of the first half figuring out Nevada’s varying defenses and getting acclimated to playing in a hostile environment.
Washington needed somebody to take care of the ball when Tony Wroten Jr. committed (five) and Abdul Gaddy (four) combined for nine of the team’s season-high 21 turnovers.
With the game seemingly in hand and leading 49-39 with 12:38 left, the Huskies needed a closer, someone with a killer instinct who could turn a comfortable 10-point margin into an insurmountable 20-point lead.
With starting forward Darnell Gant saddled with four fouls, the Huskies needed more than a combined 21 minutes from their three freshmen big men.
When Nevada fell into a zone to protect Burton who was in foul trouble, the Huskies needed somebody to make an outside shot. Washington missed 10 of 12 three-point shots in the second half and overtime.
But perhaps most important, the Huskies needed somebody – anybody – to slow down Burton. Gaddy, Wroten and Wilcox each gave it a try and nobody had any success. Especially Wroten who inexplicably whiffed on what was supposed to be last-second foul and gave Burton an open three-pointer with six seconds remaining that sent the game into overtime.
“They had a hard time guarding the on-ball screen so I had a lot of on-ball screens set for me, which created mismatches,” Burton said. “It was there all night and I just took advantage of the openings.”
Two weeks ago Saint Louis point guard Kwamain Mitchell drilled UW for 18 points while directing a Billikens offense that dissected the Huskies.
Not sure about No. 16 Marquette, but you better believe No. 3 Duke will look to exploit the Huskies with high screens and dribble penetration with freshman guard Austin Rivers.
“I would hope we would be hungrier,” Romar said when asked about next week’s New York trip. “Kids are pretty resilient. I’ve noticed that over the years. We’ll rally up.”
Maybe so. But the Huskies (4-2) thought they learned their lesson after the Saint Louis debacle and yet the road woes continue. Washington is 9-20 in non-conference, regular-season road games during 10 years with Romar.
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— It’s difficult to ask more from Ross after he scores 18 points, connects on 4 of 4 free throws, collects five rebounds and distributes five assists in 35 minutes. But the Huskies needed more. He scored the first four points in overtime and converted a gorgeous alley-oop layup with 46 seconds remaining that cut UW’s deficit to 74-73. But maybe Ross should have switched to Burton defensively. Maybe the Huskies should use their four-guard lineup – with Ross at power forward – a little more. Maybe Ross should run the pick-n-roll instead of Gaddy and Wroten because he’s a better outside shooter and he’s able to attack the basket to score or get to the line.
— Aziz N’Diaye collected a season-high tying 12 rebounds and helped the Huskies control the glass. UW outrebounded Nevada 41-35. He didn’t have a big scoring night, but he neutralized Dario Hunt who finished with eight points and seven rebounds. N’Diaye was very effective inside on both ends of the court. N’Diaye grabbed four offensive rebounds and blocked four shots. Still Nevada was able to neutralize the 7-foot center defensively when they pulled him away from the basket with pick-n-rolls. Romar should have switched N’Diaye to Olek Czyz late in the overtime when it became obvious Hunt was setting screens for Burton.
— Wilcox was scoreless in the first half on 0-for-3 shooting. He finished with 14 points, but needed 13 shots. Wilcox was most effective out of timeouts, when Romar diagrammed plays for him. Surprisingly, the three-point specialist was ineffective against Nevada’s zone. He made two of four three-pointers in the second half, but could have had a few more if teammates delivered him the ball. We chronicled Wilcox’s defensive struggles, but the most distressing part of his performance was the fact he didn’t take a free throw. It’s the third straight game Wilcox has not gotten to the line. He shoots 82 percent during his career on FTs, which is too good for him not to draw more fouls.
— Five turnovers detract from what might have been a spectacular night for Wroten. Still he’s incredibly productive. He scored 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting. He also had four rebounds, four assists and two steals in 27 minutes. Wroten briefly took over the game with about five minutes left in regulation. He drained two FTs, swiped a steal and scored a layup that put UW ahead 61-56. On the ensuing possession, Wroten picked Burton and was racing for an uncontested score when an official said he carried the ball. It was an awful call. Still there’s no explaining what Wroten was thinking on UW’s final defensive play in regulation. He’s got to make a better attempt at fouling. Wroten also sank 6 of 8 free throws. His last miss was costly. It happened with 90 seconds left and ultimately the Huskies would have needed a two-pointer on the last shot instead of a three.
— Another solid, but unspectacular night from Gaddy who had 10 points, six assists and four turnovers in a team-high 39 minutes. It was good to see him drain two open three-pointers in the first half against Nevada’s zone. It was even better to see the junior co-captain constantly encouraging teammates and bringing the players together on the court for quick messages. But he had difficulty dealing with Burton’s speed on both ends of the court. Gaddy couldn’t stay in front of Burton nor could he get around him offensively. Gaddy did a nice job finding Gant for a three-pointer late in overtime. He was also able to get up a decent attempt that might have tied the game as time expired. His shot was just a little short and hit the front of the rim.
— Gant scored the first two baskets for the Huskies and looked as if he’d provide a lift offensively. He was saddled with four fouls, which might have limited his productivity. Still he had three offensive rebounds and seven total. He also had two blocks and converted three of four free throws en route to seven points. With 10.7 seconds left in regulation, Gant could have iced the game with a pair of free throws. He rattled in the first and missed the second, which opened the door for Burton’s heroics.
— Desmond Simmons made a few defensive gaffes, which seemed to limited his minutes. It’s unfortunate because he does a lot of great things when he’s on the floor. In just nine minutes, he finished with six points on 3-for-4 shooting, five rebounds and three fouls.
— Martin Breunig and Shawn Kemp Jr. appeared overwhelmed by the speed of the game and combined for two points and zero rebounds in 12 minutes. Breunig got posterized twice on dunks from Czyz (above) and never seemed to recover.
— For the first time this season, Scott Suggs dressed for the game and participated in warm-ups. Perhaps the senior co-captain, who is recovering from toe surgery, will make his season debut Tuesday against Marquette. The Huskies could certainly use a spark after another road setback.
Photo credit: AP Photo – Julie Dawes