LAS VEGAS — Close. Again. That’s just about all the Washington men’s basketball team can take away from this mediocre season — narrow defeats and high doses of shoulda, coulda, woulda. It means the Huskies are left with nothing.
They are the moral of one of coach Lorenzo Romar’s favorite stories. He always talks of visiting with coaches in the offseason, detailing how their seasons went and listening to tales of almost. And as Romar often says, that only means your team wasn’t good enough.
The Huskies definitely weren’t good enough.
In a game symbolic of their entire season, Washington couldn’t finish against Oregon in an 80-77 overtime loss Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Conference tournament. It was their 10th loss by single digits to a league opponent. The Huskies finish as sloppily as a schoolboy trying to eat lunch in five minutes.
If the game were 35 minutes — or better yet, 32 — the Huskies might have been an NCAA tournament team. But the college game is 40 minutes long, and the Huskies are just hoping to get into the NIT.
At the MGM Grand Garden Arena, they suffered their most painful of those close defeats. They outplayed Oregon for the better part of 38 minutes, but at the end of regulation and in overtime, they made too many mistakes to claim victory.
The Ducks are the better team because they have been better in those moments. They’re tougher. They execute more precisely. They know who they are. And it showed late in the game.
“We had our chances down the stretch and didn’t capitalize,” Romar said. “When you have that small of a window against Oregon, you better jump through it or else it’ll close on you. It closed on us in overtime.”
Trailing 64-62 with 16.6 seconds remaining, Oregon guard Jonathan Loyd, a 57-percent free-throw shooter, made two foul shots to tie the game. The Huskies had the final possession of regulation, but guard C.J. Wilcox, who scored 19 points, was stripped on the way to the basket and the ball rolled out of bounds as time expired.
In overtime, the Huskies fell apart.
Another game was there for the taking. But the Huskies dropped it. Again.
“I thought down the stretch we had the game,” senior point guard Abdul Gaddy said. “Unfortunately, things didn’t go our way.”
The Huskies didn’t provide many thrills during the regular season. That’s because they saved them all for the Pac-12 tournament. One night after blowing a 19-point lead and surviving in a 64-62 victory over Washington State, the Huskies played another tense game against another rival. What were they trying to do? Compete with Jimmy Fallon for late-night entertainment?
It was one of their best performances of the season. But now, you can only remember how it ended.
The Ducks erased a six-point deficit with seven minutes left in regulation, pounding the ball inside to center Tony Woods and being more aggressive on both ends of the floor.
And in overtime, they tore apart a Washington team that played as if it had already thrown its best punch. Oregon scored eight of the first nine points in overtime to take control. Forward Arsalan Kazemi scored 11 of his 14 points in the extra session.
“We were playing good basketball for a lot of the game,” Wilcox said. “Mental mistakes just cost us. During critical points, we started making dumb decisions.”
For the second straight postseason game, the Huskies came out focused and energized. That had been a recurring problem throughout the season, but with the stakes higher, they played with the appropriate amount of desperation.
After not scoring for the first two minutes of the game, Washington executed its offense as well as it has all season during an eight-minute stretch. As a result, the Huskies built a 23-14 lead by the 10:53 mark of the first half.
Wilcox, who had been struggling with his jump shot for several weeks, made his first two three-point attempts and scored 12 points in the first half on 4-of-6 shooting. Scott Suggs, who finished with 18 points, continued his inspired play and had 10 points by the break. With those two leading the offense, the Huskies were efficient and effective as they built that nine-point lead.
But Oregon adjusted. And eventually, the Ducks wore down the Huskies with their defensive pressure.
It led to a familiar lament.
But not good enough.