The University of Washington Husky men’s basketball team probably has at least six remaining games this season and, if any is fan-friendlier than the one the Dawgs lost Saturday at Arizona, followers of the program will have gotten an unexpected bonus. The 87-86 loss to the league-leading Wildcats could have gone either way for the final eight minutes and, with a micro-second left, got down to an inability of the Dawgs to put the ball into the hands of a shooter as time expired.
It was the kind of ending that challenges viewers to keep from blinking. If you looked away from the scoreboard or (were it possible) ignored the stentorian chorus of 14,000 white-clad fans, you could make a case that neither team won or lost. Such is what makes a great game: neither a great triumph for the winners or a head-hanging loss for the vanquished.
Washington probably will win the last four regular-season outings, all local starting Tuesday (Feb. 22) at KeyArena against host Seattle University. After that the Huskies will want to avenge at Hec Edmundson an earlier road loss against Washington State then beat the visiting Los Angeles schools the first week of March.
After that, even with an unlikely first-round Pac-10 tournament loss, the Dawgs would be 22-9 and hard to exclude from the NCAA tournament. How far they’d get during March Madness might have a lot to do with whether they’re able to start games as well as they finish.
Saturday, Coach Lorenzo Romar addressed yet again an example of his team’s sluggish starts.
“We’ve done this a couple of times: had the jitters a little bit,” he said during a radio interview, adding that “we came out with great energy in the second half,” albeit nine points down by then.
Thursday up the map against Arizona State the Huskies had shown, if not the jitters, at least a disinclination to get a game going against an obviously lesser foe. ASU led by eight after five minutes; the Dawgs didn’t take the lead until 10 minutes later before coasting to a 79-62 win..
Saturday UW was down 11-2 early and trailed by as many as 12. During the second half, however, the Dawgs used frequent steals and the rediscovery of Matthew Bryan-Amaning under the basket. The center was repeatedly fed the ball for buckets in the paint and the visitors finally claimed the lead with 8:38 left.
The lead then changed hands five times before the game ended with what many would find impossible: four possessions during the last three seconds. The final try for the Huskies ended when the Wildcats’ Derrick Williams slapped a Justin Holiday pass as time expired.
Bryan-Amaning, with 24 mostly second-half points, later said he was open mainly because Arizona players needed to concentrate on the outside game of non-starter C.J. Wilcox. It constituted a case of “pick your poison” for Arizona, the senior forward said.
The Wilcox venom was in the form of seven-of-11 shooting from the floor for 19 points. The freshman guard has been enlisted lately because the Huskies are without injured backcourt players Scott Suggs and Abdul Gaddy.
In any case, payback for the Huskies’ first loss since coming back from three key midseason setbacks could well come at the expense of Seattle U. The Tuesday-night game at KeyArena technically is a home date for the Redhawks, fledglings in their return to big-time college basketball. But Lower Queen Anne is sure to be alive with UW partisans before the televised 7 p.m. tipoff, followed five nights later by a game at Hec Edmundson against Washington State, winners by 87-80 in Pullman Jan. 30.
Lest Husky fans fret about the reality of being consigned to losing the Pac-10 regular-season title, maybe they can take solace in recalling the 2010 season. The under-Dawgs were an NCAA-tourney 11 seed and still made it to the Sweet 16. There could, then, be a lot of basketball left to be played, though maybe not quite with the split-second finishing touches of the Feb. 19 game.