SEATTLE — UCLA has brought several teams full of hyped recruits and all-conference players to Hec Edmundson Pavilion throughout the past 50 years, from John Wooden’s juggernaut to Ben Howland’s rugged Final Four participants.
For the better part of the last decade, most of those squads came here and lost, Seattle proving a consistent thorn in the Bruins’ side.
Not anymore. For the second consecutive season, UCLA beat the Washington Huskies on their own floor.
But the sting of UW’s 91-82 loss on Thursday night is not derived from its opponent. The Bruins are bound for the NCAA tournament and their roster features a handful of future NBA players. UCLA is better than Washington. This is not a secret.
It’s not necessarily about the postseason, either. The Huskies aren’t making the NCAA tournament without winning the Pac-12 tournament championship next week in Las Vegas. A victory would have improved their chances at a higher seed there, but considering the logjam that is the middle of the Pac-12 standings, the difference between fifth place (where they would have been, with four other teams) and ninth place (where they are now, by themselves) might not matter a great deal.
What seemed to gall coach Lorenzo Romar most about this loss is how little the Huskies trusted each other defensively, where they allowed Jordan Adams to score 31 points and abandoned their gameplan.
“We had too many breakdowns in the halfcourt, where when we switched, we weren’t on the same page,” Romar said. “And that’s something that shouldn’t happen, because we’ve done a good job. Been nails in practice. For whatever reason, there was a point in the second half where we began to not totally trust each other on the defensive end.
“‘I don’t know if I want to switch because then my man might score. There’s things going on on the weak side, then I’m going to hug my guy over here because man, he’s pretty good, and I don’t want them to throw it to him and he scores.’ And that made a big difference in the game in the second half. And again, you can make those mistakes on some other teams and not pay for it, but against those guys, you’re going to pay.”
The turnovers, too. Washington committed only four while scoring with efficiency en route to a 45-41 halftime lead, then turned the ball over nine times in the second half. UCLA converted those gimmes into 18 points. That’s about as efficient as it gets.
Adams was the beneficiary of a bunch of those, and his steal of a UW inbounds pass — and subsequent and-one layup — with 15:16 to go felt like somewhat of a turning point. It gave UCLA a 57-53 lead, and while UW did tie the score at 64-64 with 10:35 to play, the Bruins never trailed again.
The Huskies (16-14, 8-9 in Pac-12) scored enough points to give themselves a chance to win. They shot 55.4 percent from the field. But Adams kept UCLA one step ahead throughout the second half — jumpers, layups — then freshman Zach LaVine, a Bothell native, took over during the final five minutes.
LaVine scored 11 of his 14 points in that time, including a driving layup — supplemented by a foul from C.J. Wilcox, who led UW with 20 points — that put UCLA ahead 81-75 with 3:18 to play after the Huskies had cut the lead from eight to four.
“We just had too many scout errors, things we went over in the scout that we didn’t execute,” said UW guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who scored 17 points and handed out eight assists, but committed five turnovers. “Miscommunications where we thought we were going to switch and we didn’t, and (Adams) was able to get free and once he got going he ended up having a really good game.”
Wilcox sat for a five-minute stretch in the second half after picking up his third foul. But when he returned with 8:59 to play, UCLA’s lead was only four points. It grew to nine with 7:37 to go, and the Huskies couldn’t get enough stops to make a run at it.
So afterward, Romar spoke of mistakes, and of opponents talented enough to capitalize on most of them.
The Bruins (23-7, 12-5) fit that bill.
“That’s what UCLA did to us tonight,” Romar said.