Thanks to Kyle McCormick for the highlights.
Washington never missed C.J. Wilcox more than it did in the final seconds of its 69-66 defeat to California.
The Huskies needed a three-point shot, but their best shooter was on the bench nursing a left hip injury.
Their other top gun – Terrence Ross – had Jorge Gutierrez, perhaps the best Pac-12 defender, draped all over him. Cal anticipated Ross would get the shot because he’d made three treys and shoots 41 percent behind the arc this season.
“We didn’t anticipate anything other than they were going to shoot a three,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “The obvious choice is Ross if he’s open. He’s the guy you want shooting it, but we had Jorge on him and Jorge can defend. He’s arguably the best defender in the league and he wasn’t going to let Ross just catch.
“We were going to try and switch everything. … They didn’t have a lot of time to mess around. It was 10 seconds so it’s not like they had all day to figure things out and run an intricate play.”
Coach Lorenzo Romar had few options if you remove Ross from the equation.
Darnell Gant? He’s a 40.7 percent three-point shooter, but was 0 for 5 tonight.
Abdul Gaddy? He shoots 31.9 percent and had made 1 of 2 three-point shots.
Desmond Simmons? He shoots 31.3 percent and missed his only attempt.
Or Tony Wroten Jr.? He shoots 20 percent and was 1 for 4.
Romar chose Gant. It didn’t matter the senior forward hadn’t made a shot in 28 minutes and missed eight field goal attempts. Romar was playing a different percentage game and looking at the big picture.
“Sometimes just because somebody is having an off night, you look at the body of work that they’ve put forth you take your chance with him,” Romar said. “If he was a 10 percent three-point shooter, we would have never had done it.
“He’s shooting a pretty good percentage and he’s been knocking them down, it just didn’t fall for him tonight.”
It was an ingenious play and perfectly executed in the early stages. With 8.5 seconds left, Gaddy did a nice job racing the ball up the court and driving inside the arc before flipping the ball back to Gant who trailed the play. He caught the ball in rhythm. Squared up to the rim. Got a good look at the basket. And released a shot over Harper Kamp. The ball hit the front of the rim as Gant turned away and cradled his head with both hands.
Let the second guessing begin.
Considering his struggles tonight, Gant seemed a curious choice. You wonder if Wroten-to-Gaddy would have been a better option. Wroten is quick enough to push the ball down court and Gaddy has a capable set shot.
Trying to force a pass to Ross would have been difficult because Gutierrez was in his hip pocket and Kamp roamed the middle of the court and was looking to double team Ross. But if Ross had taken the ball out of bounds and raced the ball up court, he could have gotten a decent shot. Or maybe he draws a double team and passes to a teammate for an open jumper.
It’s all moot at this point.
What’s certain is Washington has struggled in the first half for the second straight game and fell behind early. The Huskies were awful early on. They had just one assist and shot 34.5 percent from the field. Their best offense was throwing the ball at the glass and allowing Aziz N’Diaye to score on the putback. Washington also mustered just three points off the bench and four fast-break points.
“We came out in the first half real lethargic, dead and slow,” Ross said. “Not doing what we were supposed to do. Forgetting plays. Everything that could have gone wrong in the first half, it kind of did.”
The Huskies (11-7, 4-2) had enough talent to pull off a comeback against Washington State, but they fell short against a quality team like California (16-4, 6-1) which claimed sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 after Stanford (15-4, 5-2) lost at Washington State.
“We got beat by a good team,” Romar said. “My biggest gripe tonight is that we kind of repeated our mistakes against Washington State. We didn’t come out with the type of fire, and I shouldn’t say fire because I thought we played hard, but not with the type of concentration we needed. It picked up more in the second half but against a team like that it wasn’t good enough to overcome the deficit. Down the stretch I thought our guys fought. We played extremely hard, but we came up on the short end obviously.”
Romar’s technical didn’t help matters. The Huskies trailed 55-51 with 6:54 left when he exploded on the sideline in a second straight game. Romar’s rant cost UW two points, which is a glaring in a close game.
The Huskies would have also helped themselves had they been a little better at the line. Washington shot 64.3 percent (9 of 14) on free throws.
On a positive note, the Huskies forced 17 turnovers that led to 15 points.
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— Ross was nearly the hero for a second straight game. He rebounded from a miserable first half when he completed 1 or 5 shots and had two points. He came on strong in the second half and in the final minutes. Ross did the same thing Sunday when he scored a career-high 30 points. This time he tallied 13 points in the second half, including two three-pointers in the final 1:37 minutes.
“I feel like what I’m working on in practice is starting to show,” Ross said. “In the first half I don’t know what was wrong, but I wasn’t playing my style of basketball. But in the second half I gathered myself and played hard on the offense and defensive end. I was doing what I could to help the team out.”
— Considering the opponent, Aziz N’Diaye had his best game of the season. He equaled his season high with 14 points and collected 12 rebounds for his third double double. Cal had no one who could stop the 7-foot center. He scored on post ups with a spin move and layup. He sank a hook shot and got the bulk of his points on putbacks. He had six offensive rebounds. As good as N’Diaye was on the offensive end, he wasn’t nearly effective on defense where he surrendered a career-high 16 points and seven rebounds to Robert Thurman, a junior walk-on backup forward. N’Diaye also missed all three free throws, which looms large in a three-point defeat.
— Got to give Romar credit for moving Wroten into the post where he overpowered 6-2 Justin Cobbs. Wroten wasn’t able to attack the rim from the perimeter. Early in the game, Gutierrez drew two offensive fouls on Wroten, which forced him to go to the bench. Late in the first half, Wroten worked almost solely inside. When he didn’t score, he drew a foul and went to the line and made 5 of 5 free throws. Wroten also had three steals, four rebounds and five turnovers.
— Gaddy came on strong late, scoring nine of his 12 points in the second half. It’s impressive considering he played 38 minutes.
— Simmons scored eight points, which is more than he’s had in the previous five games. Still it looks as if he’s hit the proverbial freshman wall. He played 19 minutes for the second straight game. He collected just three rebounds.
— Gant played 28 minutes and tallied just one point, two rebounds and two steals.
— Freshmen Hikeem Stewart and Shawn Kemp Jr. combined for 14 minutes, two points and two rebounds. Stewart didn’t play in the second half and Kemp logged a minute.
Photo credit: AP Photo – Elaine Thompson