LAS VEGAS — It was over. And then it was on.
It was a laugher. And then it was a nail-nibbler.
It was Washington and Washington State at their imperfect finest, both displaying their strengths and weaknesses in one wild game of extremes.
At the end, after a 19-point comeback from the Cougars, after an implosion from the Huskies, it came down to exactly the kind of play you didn’t expect.
Desmond Simmons in the post out of a timeout.
Of all players, Simmons, the low-scoring, high-energy forward, saved the Huskies from embarrassment. It was that kind of game.
Simmons made a nice move in the post and scored the winning basket with 1:16 left, on a layup. Washington advanced to the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament after escaping with a 64-62 victory on Wednesday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
If not for Simmons’ bucket, the Huskies might have suffered their most head-scratching defeat in a season full of them. Instead, they live to make you scratch your noggin again.
Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. It depends on which Husky team shows up against Oregon Thursday night.
The Huskies used a 14-0 run in the first half to take an early 18-5 lead and separate from the Cougars. Scott Suggs, deft and assertive, was a difference-maker. He continued his strong play late in the season. He’s no longer just the sweet shooter standing in the corner, watching the final days of his Washington career tick away.
He’s engaged and emotional. The mild-mannered guard hit his first shot of the game — a three-pointer to give Washington a 10-5 lead — and he made a goofy gesture to the Washington bench that made his teammates laugh. Swagger from Suggs, the reluctant standout?
For the first time, his hunger matches his skill level. It’s a beautiful thing to see, a fifth-year senior still growing, still evolving. And if Washington is to do anything special this postseason, the Huskies need to see a lot more of it from Suggs, who finished with 19 points.
Over the past five games, since a meeting with coach Lorenzo Romar, Suggs has been a different person and a better player. He seemed sullen at times this season, but now he’s an uplifting presence. The Huskies are 4-1 over this five-game span, and Suggs is averaging 18 points. Finally, he’s the dependable No. 2 scorer Washington has lacked all season.
Actually, during his hot streak, Suggs has been the offense’s focal point and leading scorer C.J. Wilcox has been the secondary guy. And Abdul Gaddy, the man delivering them the ball, has looked much more solid because the perimeter scorers have been productive together.
The Huskies led by 11 at halftime, and midway through the second half, Gaddy was throwing lobs to Shawn Kemp Jr., and it seemed like Washington was about to enjoy a rare victory with breathing room. That hasn’t happened much in a season marked by close game after close game.
For certain, the Huskies played like they were in an unfamiliar role.
The Huskies toyed around with the lead, taking ill-advised shots and committing foolish turnovers. Washington State responded with inspired play, led by forward Brock Motum, who had 28 points.
The Cougars used a 15-0 run to tie the game at 62. Washington looked done, with players standing around and the offense relegated to Gaddy hoisting errant three-pointers.
But Simmons breathed life into them. And they mustered a final defensive stand with Andrew Andrews standing up to Motum, crowding him and forcing a poor shot that Motum hoped would be a foul call.
Motum didn’t get the call. The Huskies survived, barely.
They survived by the fingertips of Simmons, an unlikely hero in a game that should’ve been over long before his layup rolled in the basket.