University of Washington men fall to California, 72-59

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Despite their many flaws in a season filled with disappointments, the Huskies had taken solace that they’d been perfect at home against Pac-12 competition.

Well, the Washington men’s basketball team can’t make that claim anymore. Not after California handed UW a 72-59 defeat at Alaska Airlines Arena to sweep the regular-season series.

In many ways, the defeat Saturday in front of 7,124 spectators was even more crushing than the 26-point beatdown the Golden Bears delivered last month at Haas Pavilion.

With five games remaining in the regular season, its latest setback just about snuffed out any chance Washington (14-12, 6-7 Pac-12) had at earning an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.

If the Huskies are going to end a two-year drought and reach the Big Dance for the first time since 2012, then they’ll most likely to have to win the Pac-12 tournament next month.

“It definitely puts our back against the wall,” senior co-captain C.J. Wilcox said. “We pretty much have to claw and fight our way out and try to win the rest of our games.”

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said players need to have the mental toughness to play 40 minutes of basketball, which pretty much sums up Washington’s biggest shortcoming.

Much like their three most recent defeats, the Huskies were undone during a decisive stretch when their offense stalled and their defense relented.

Their 72-67 defeat at Washington State was highlighted by a 24-5 Cougars run over a 9-minute, 48-second span early in the second half.

In the 78-67 setback at Utah, the Huskies surrendered a 13-0 run in 5:48 early in the second half.

And Colorado needed 5:29 to race out to a 20-4 run at the start of the game in Washington’s 91-65 defeat.

Saturday, the Huskies had a 12-point lead late in the first half before Cal closed the half on a 19-2 run.

Andrew Andrews, who ended a three-game slump and scored a career-high-tying 21 points, buried a three-pointer with 6:49 left in the first half that put Washington ahead 27-15.

The Huskies missed their next seven shots and committed five of their 14 turnovers during a 6:40 drought.

Meanwhile, Cal scored 17 consecutive points and surged ahead 32-27.

Wilcox snapped the scoreless streak on a short jumper with nine seconds left in the half. However, Justin Cobbs raced the length of the court and sank a buzzer-beating layup that gave the Bears a 34-29 lead at halftime.

“We got down on ourselves and we weren’t able to recover,” Romar said. “The disappointing thing about that is Cal didn’t all of a sudden go on some three-point shooting barrage where they were just hitting everything that they threw up.”

Washington never recovered in the second half.

Andrews’ jumper cut the Huskies’ deficit to 50-45 with 10:39 left, but they didn’t get any closer. California pushed its lead to nine before Wilcox and Perris Blackwell each sank layups to eventually pull UW to six points.

After Blackwell’s basket, Cal sharpshooter Ricky Kreklow put the game away with a three-pointer at the 6:02 mark.

The Huskies had no answer for sophomore Tyrone Wallace, who scored 20 points, which was one shy of his personal best. Richard Solomon had 18 points and seven rebounds while Cobbs finished with 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Bears, who improved to 17-8, 8-4.

Washington received 12 points from Nigel Williams-Goss and 10 from Blackwell. Wilcox was held to a season-low-tying eight points on 4-for-12 shooting. He was 0 for 6 on three-pointers.

“We knew Wilcox could really get going, so we made an effort to stay with him and contest,” California coach Mike Montgomery said. “We did that.”

It’s the second time in the past three games Wilcox has scored fewer than nine points. Before Saturday, he was second in the Pac-12 at 19.2 points a game.

“It’s tough for me because I don’t want to force the issue, but that’s what I have to do to be aggressive,” Wilcox said. “It’s tough. I try to look for my teammates as much as possible.”

After an unsatisfactory split during their two-game homestand, the Huskies return to the road where they’re 1-6 in Pac-12 play. Washington plays at Oregon on Wednesday.

“I don’t know if you can do it in three days, but we have to have a mental adjustment fast before we get out on that road,” Romar said. “We got to make sure that we decide that mentally, don’t worry about anyone else.

“Each to a man (they) can maintain that mental focus throughout the game.”

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