Fair or unfair, Abdul Gaddy and Scott Suggs (near right) are held up as Exhibit A and Exhibit B when many Washington fans attempt to explain what’s gone wrong with this season.
That’s what happens when you’re senior co-captains. You become a target for criticism. You carry the expectations of a team some believed had NCAA tournament potential.
And when things go wrong, you take the hit. When you lose eight of 10 games, you’re forced to answer difficult questions.
On Saturday when defending regular-season champion Washington was officially eliminated from the Pac-12 title race, Gaddy and Suggs gave a performance that affirmed why some believed the Huskies could have contended for the conference crown again.
They provided the veteran leadership, playmaking and clutch plays that you’d expect from a four-year starter (Gaddy) and a fifth-year senior (Suggs).
And it was fitting they connected on the play that sealed Washington’s 68-59 win at Arizona State.
Leading by three points in the final minute, Gaddy blew past a defender at the top of the key and darted into the lane drawing two more ASU players.
He spotted Suggs standing in the right corner and delivered a perfect pass. Suggs then immediately rose high and drained a three-pointer over sophomore forward Jonathan Gilling who dashed to the corner with his arms extended.
Suggs’ splashed through the net. It was his fourth three-pointer and sixth field goal. He finished with 16 points.
For Gaddy it was his seventh assists. He also had 13 points, five rebounds, a steal and zero turnovers in 32 minutes.
And for Washington, it was a much-needed win after Wednesday’s embarrassing defeat at Arizona. The Huskies proved a lot to their critics Saturday.
They proved they haven’t given up on this season or themselves. They proved they could win a closely contested game on the road even if their leading scorer is a non-factor. They proved they can build a 13-point lead in the second half and keep their composure when ASU closes to within a point 57-56 in the final four minutes.
On the next possession, redshirt freshman guard Andrew Andrews drew a foul and made both free throws.
The Huskies received a bit of good fortune when the Sun Devils missed two open three-pointers that would have tied the score.
However, on the next play Andrews delivered one of the unsung plays of the game. Shawn Kemp Jr. missed a hook shot, but UW retained possession because Andrews climbed over a defender and gathered the rebound.
After a timeout, Gaddy used a screen and was matched against 6-10 ASU freshman forward Eric Jacobsen. Gaddy dribbled the ball between his legs and got Jacobsen off balance before dropping a long jumper at the top of the key.
The Sun Devils answered with a Jahii Carson layup and Washington led 61-58 in the final minute with Gaddy back at the top of the key with the ball and the game in his hands.
This time he connected with Suggs, who made perhaps the biggest shot of his UW career.
After Wednesday’s 70-52 defeat at Arizona, it didn’t seem possible the Huskies could win a game like they did Saturday night. They won because they outrebounded the Sun Devils 35-22. They won with great free throw shooting (12 of 16 for 75 percent). They won because they committed just seven turnovers, their fewest since Jan. 9.
Almost every other significant statistic was virtually even.
It remains to be seen if the win will have serious Pac-12 Tournament implications.
Washington (15-13) is tied with Stanford (16-12) for ninth place in the standings with 7-8 records. But the Huskies would get the higher seed over the Cardinal because UW won its only head-to-head battle.
The Huskies are hoping to finish the regular season with wins during their three-game homestand. They’re hoping they can climb to fourth in the standings and receive a first-round conference tournament bye.
MORE NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— Gaddy had it all working tonight on the offensive end – the floater, the jumper and the dribble drive layups. He scored 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Gaddy used his 6-3 frame to shield the ball away from 5-10 Carson. Gaddy also helped limit the high-scoring guard to 3-of-14 shooting and 10 points.
— Suggs hadn’t scored a three-pointer in three previous games before Arizona State. With Wilcox struggling offensive, Scott picked up the slack. He made 6 of 10 field goals for a game-high 16 points despite pressure defense from Carrick Felix, who is being touted as one of the Pac-12 best defenders.
— Andrews got a lot done in 26 minutes. He scored 13 points, collected four rebounds and finished with two blocks and two steals.
— Aziz N’Diaye added 10 rebounds in a game in which the Huskies dominated the glass. He also held his own against ASU 7-foot centers Ruslan Pateev (10 points and three rebounds) and Jordan Bachnyski (four points and three rebounds.)
— Defending Gilling, a three-point threat, was a difficult matchup for Shawn Kemp Jr. However, their offensive numbers is virtually a wash. Both had eight points. And yet, Kemp provided what might be the play of the game when he flushed over Gilling.
— Desmond Simmons and Jernard Jarreau each scored four points and combined for six rebounds.
— It was Wilcox worst shooting performance this season. He finished with just one basket for the first time this season.