Photo credit: Seattle Times – Dean Rutz
Perhaps Washington’s 86-84 defeat to No. 9 Oregon State should not have come down to a handful of free throws in the final minute. But they did. And the best player in the game – Tony Wroten Jr. – stood at the line with the Huskies’ fate in his hands.
He missed four shots. And with each failed attempt Washington’s chances of winning the game also bounced harmlessly away.
When it was over, you had to feel bad for Wroten who buried his face in his hands as he walked off the Staples Center court. He scored a career-high 29 points, which is the most for a freshman and one shy of UW’s modern-day record for postseason scoring. He was so good, until he wasn’t.
Wroten, a 57.5 percent free throw shooter, made seven straight before missing the final four.
You could argue the Huskies lost the game minutes earlier when they failed to deliver a knockout blow after pulling ahead by eight points (66-58) with 8:46 left.
But then this was a game of runs and momentum swings.
Oregon State led 51-39 with 17:59 left when Washington used an 18-3 lead to regain the lead. Wroten brought them all the way back when he sank a free throw that put them ahead 55-54 with 12:04 remaining.
Washington made its comeback powered by the surprising duo of its co-captains Abdul Gaddy and Darnell Gant. During the spurt, Gaddy had seven points, including a three-pointer while Gant had drilled a long jumper a three-point shot.
Just when it seemed as if Washington had things in control, Oregon State clawed its way back into the game. The Beavers never went away and the Huskies learned the lesson of what happens when you allow an inferior opponent to hang around.
Wroten sank a pair of freebies to give UW an 83-79 lead when Ahmad Starks drilled a three-pointer. At the other end, Terrence Ross blew past big Joe Burton but ran into a road block at the basket and drew an offensive foul.
Washington needed a defensive stop, however, Pac-12 scoring leader Jared Cunningham drove to his left and elevated over Gaddy for a layup despite being fouled. He missed the free throw, but Oregon State led 84-83.
Not sure if coach Lorenzo Romar had drawn up a play because Wroten got the ball and he didn’t give up. He drove hard to the basket, threw up a wild shot, gathered the rebound and was fouled on the putback.
That’s when the parade to the line began. Or maybe it was a death march.
Romar said Wroten’s final four shots looked good, with the exception of the second to last attempt. Other thought they looked a bit rushed. Whatever the case, the results were symptomatic for a UW team that struggled at the line all season.
The Huskies ranked 11th in the conference with a 61.8 shooting percentage on free throws. Today they were 46.2 percent (12 of 26) at the charity stripe.
And it wasn’t just Wroten who missed. C.J. Wilcox an 85.7 FT shooter was 1 for 3 and missed the first of a 1-and-1 situation. Gaddy a 75.9 percent shooter was 0 for 1. Ross a 71.7 percent shooter was 1 for 3.
“Tony was the only guy in the game that was consistently making free throws and they were all net,” Romar said.
One of the biggest questions after the game was the condition of Wroten who declined to talk to reporters and appeared devastated by the defeat.
“I’m sure he’s beating himself up, but he’ll bounce back,” Romar said. “This is not the first time that things have not worked out for him. He’s such a competitor and wants to do so much to help this team and he may forget that he scored 29 points.”
The other question concerned Washington’s postseason future. The Huskies (21-10) have lost two straight games against teams ranked over 100 in the RPI. Washington’s best win is a victory at Arizona and a home win over Oregon.
The Huskies did win the regular-season championship, but I always felt their magic number was 22 wins. Obviously they fell just short and now they’ll wait anxiously until Selection Sunday to learn if they’ll become the first BCS regular-season conference winner to not get an NCAA tournament invitation.
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— It might have been a storybook game for Wroten. He was hardly in awe in his first Pac-12 tournament game and frequently took it strong to the basket for layups. He also had seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks, one steal and four turnovers in 38 minutes.
— Wilcox looked very much at ease on the Staple Center floor where he starred in last year’s Pac-10 Tournament. He finished with 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting, including three three-pointers. He also had four rebounds.
— Ross, another star from last year, had a quiet 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting. Maybe Ross could have done more offensively, but he had his hands full on the defensive end. At times he was forced to defend big guys like 280-pound Burton in the post. Ross didn’t wilt and collected five rebounds. he also had three assists, which offset two turnovers.
— Gaddy played his best during the second-half run that got UW back into the game. He made a career-high tying three three-point shots en route to 13 points. Gaddy also dished six assists, which is the sixth straight game he’s had at least four assists.
— For the second straight game, Darnell Gant collected 10 rebounds. Like Ross, he was quietly effective. He sank 3 of 4 shots for six points. He also delivered a career-high tying four assists and played solid defense against Angus Brandt who had eight points and zero rebounds.
— Aziz N’Diaye never got on track because of foul trouble. He played 22 minutes and finished with seven rebounds and four points. He also had two turnovers.
— Desmond Simmons played 10 minutes and had three rebounds.
— Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Shawn Kemp Jr. each played four minutes and combined for one rebound.