By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Some familiar sights returned to center stage at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Saturday evening in the form of Scott Suggs, Shawn Kemp Jr. and another huge second-half comeback.
None of them were enough to get the University of Washington men’s basketball team over the top.
For the second consecutive year, the Huskies had no answer for Nevada point guard Deonte Burton, who hit two clutch 3-pointers in the final three minutes to cap off a 29-point performance and hand UW a 76-73 loss at home.
After rallying from an 18-point, second-half deficit to tie the score at 55 with 71⁄2 remaining, the Huskies (4-4) didn’t have the closing strength of the visiting Wolf Pack. Nevada (5-4) put the final dagger in UW when Burton’s baseline 3-pointer in front of the Wolf Pack bench gave his team a 73-68 lead with 1:56 remaining. UW’s C.J. Wilcox, who said he got a finger on that shot, hit a 3-pointer in the final second to turn a six-point deficit into a three-point defeat.
It was UW’s third home loss this season, marking the first time in the Lorenzo Romar era that a Huskies team of his has lost three non-conference games at home. It’s been five years since a UW team lost more than two games at home during an entire season.
“We don’t look at this as: ‘Oh, no, we’re done,’” Romar said afterward. “We just don’t see it that way. It’s a matter of time before we’re going to be an OK team.”
Getting to the OK plateau seems like a legitimate first step for a UW team that has struggled with consistency.
Saturday night was no different in that the Huskies fell behind by 18 points early in the second half before tearing off on a 20-2 run to tie the score at 55 with 7:30 remaining. A pair of Abdul Gaddy free throws tied the score again, at 63, with 4:31 to go before the 6-foot-1 Burton closed off his huge offensive performance with a pair of rally-killing 3-pointers.
Burton’s 25-footer from the top of the key, which came despite tight defense from the 6-5 Wilcox, put the Wolf Pack ahead 70-66 with 2:48 remaining. Less than a minute later, Burton struck again with a baseline 3 that Wilcox believed he had altered with a fingertip.
“I thought it was going to be an airball or something,” said Wilcox, whose 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds to play cut the final margin to three points and gave him a team-high 21 points for the game. “But he got going, (and when that happens,) guys hit shots like that.”
UW was still within striking distance after Wilcox’s alley-oop dunk cut Nevada’s lead to 73-70 with 1:28 remaining, but the Huskies couldn’t get him another shot until the final, albeit meaningless, possession. Gaddy missed a floater and an open 3-pointer in the final 14 seconds to help clinch Nevada’s win.
Burton had a career-high 31 points in the Wolf Pack’s home win over UW last season, and he added 29 on 10-for-17 shooting Saturday.
After Saturday’s win, Burton said of the Huskies: “I love to go against them.”
Gaddy said that he thought the 20-2 UW spurt in the second half had the Huskies well on their way to another home win before Burton quieted the arena down the stretch.
“The dude hit two big shots,” Gaddy said, “and it made it tough for us.”
UW was playing without backup point guard Andrew Andrews, who sprained his ankle in practice earlier this week, but the Huskies got a depth boost from the returns of Suggs and Kemp.
Suggs, who had missed three games with a sprained right foot, returned to action and overcame a slow start to score 19 points in his first action since Nov. 18. Kemp came off the bench and provided some immediate results despite playing just 18 minutes in his season debut. He had five points and four rebounds after missing seven games with a torn meniscus in his knee.
Another slow start left the Huskies looking up at halftime. UW, which trailed by 14 at halftime in a win over Cal State Fullerton, opened Saturday’s game missing 15 of its first 18 shots and fell into a 34-26 hole at the break.
A 9-0 Wolf Pack run early in the second half left the Huskies staring up at a 50-32 deficit with 15:20 remaining. When Burton made a breakaway, tomahawk dunk to silence the crowd, it appeared that Nevada was on its way to an easy win.
But UW responded with quite a run of its own, outscoring Nevada 20-2 over a 61⁄2-minute stretch to tie the score on a Gaddy dunk over Burton’s outstretched hand.
That just wasn’t enough for a UW program that has now lost three non-conference home games in a season for the first time since then-coach Bob Bender’s 2000-01 team started 2-4 at home on the way to a 10-20 season.
Home wins have been a staple of Romar’s 11-year era at UW, and yet this year’s Huskies already have sent the crowd home with three losses — not since the 2007-08 season has Washington lost that many home games in an entire season.
Still, Romar believes this year’s Huskies will be OK.
“We haven’t come together yet,” he said. “We’re not a consistent team yet.”