For the past few weeks, the Huskies didn’t want to talk about the National Invitation Tournament while focusing on capturing the Pac-12 tournament, which rewards the winner with an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
After Wednesday’s 67-61 loss to Utah in the Pac-12 tourney opener, the Huskies will spend the next few days wondering if they’ve done enough to make it into the NIT.
At 17-15, the Huskies are on the bubble. They’ll need a little luck to extend their season. They need California to win a game or two and wrap up a NCAA tourney berth. They need Oregon State to lose immediately and fall out of NIT contention.
“I just don’t know where we’re at with that one,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We’ll see how things shake out this week.”
Romar and the Huskies aren’t convinced their season is over.
C.J. Wilcox said: “I’m not ready for this to end.”
Darin Johson added: “We want to continue playing.”
If Wednesday was the final game of the season, then it was symbolic of a season filled with disappointments.
The Huskies started slowly. They fell behind 15-6 after allowing a 9-0 run. They trailed by 10 points (34-24) at the break and shot 26.9 percent from the field in the first half. And then they made a run in the second half that fell short.
Washington did some good things in the second half. Nigel Williams-Goss took over at spurts on both ends of the court. Darin Johnson had his best offensive game since the nonconference season. And Desmond Simmons made some timely baskets and clutch free throws.
But in the end, Washington didn’t make the plays when it mattered most.
Romar did a nice job managing the game, using timeouts and compensating for Andrew Andrews, who was weakened with a bout of food poisoning.
Despite a 10-point deficit, Romar got the Huskies to play hard in the second half. They were the better teams for spurts. They had a 1-point lead four times. But they could never pull away from Utah partly because offense, despite shooting 46.4 percent, never got on track and finished with just five assists.
If Wednesday was the final game of the season, then then Romar’s critics will harp on his decisions down the stretch. Dakarai Tucker drained a three-pointer to put Utah ahead 63-60 and Romar immediately called timeout.
With 34 seconds left, the Huskies run off 15 seconds before Williams-Goss misses a three-pointer at the top of the key that fell short with 19 seconds remaining.
After Tucker’s three-pointer, you have to wonder why Romar didn’t immediately instruct the Huskies to race the ball up the court and opt for a quick two points knowing Utah wasn’t going to foul.
You have to wonder why Romar didn’t choose to extend the game. Score and foul. There was plenty of time. Thirty-four seconds is an eternity.
When asked the strategy after the timeout, Williams-Goss said: “We tried to get C.J. with a quick three. We said if it wasn’t over, we said we were going to try to get Perris (Blackwell) on the slip. Neither one of those was available and I had size advantage over Taylor and I took top of the key three.”
Hindsight is infallible, but taking a three-pointer in that situation is the wrong tactic.
After Williams-Goss missed and Utah collected the rebound, the game was essentially over. The Utes made four free throws and then the game really was over. And maybe the season as well.
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— This is Williams-Goss’ team now. When he brings energy and plays well, Washington is really good. He scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half. He also had five rebounds, three assists, three steals and four turnovers in 36 minutes.
— With Andrews ailing, Johnson had 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting. He was 6 of 8 on free throws. It tied his career scoring high. On Utah’s decisive three-pointers, it was Johnson who left Tucker alone in the corner to cover Jordan Loveridge at the top of the key. Not sure what Johnson saw, but leaving Tucker turned out to be a fatal decision.
— Wilcox was aggressive offensively, but he wasn’t very accurate. He sank 4 of 15 shots and 2 of 8 three-pointers for 14 points.
— Simmons did a good job at the free throw line (4 of 5) and was good on the glass (nine rebounds) as well. He had 10 points in 34 minutes.
— In what could be his final game as a Husky, Blackwell, a senior forward, finished with four rebounds and was 0 for 3 on field goals. He scored one point.
— Andrews did what he could, but his energy was sapped due to the food poisoning. He had bouts of vomiting that began at midnight and ended hours before the game. He also received fluids intravenously 30 minutes before the game. Andrews had three points and one rebound in 24 minutes.
— Shawn Kemp Jr. had a dunk in the second half. He played 17 minutes and had two points and a rebound.
— Mike Anderson had two rebounds in 10 minutes.