By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — A season filled with promise has deteriorated into a din of familiarity.
The University of Washington women’s basketball team, which just three weeks ago was the Pacific-10 Conference’s most pleasant surprise, has been back to its old ways as of late. Saturday’s 69-65 loss to UCLA extended the Huskies’ losing streak to a season-long four games and pushed UW closer to its familiar position near the bottom of the conference standings.
And just when things looked like they couldn’t get any worse, second-leading scorer Kristi Kingma had to be helped off the court after a hard collision under the basket in the final minute of Saturday’s game.
The eighth-place Huskies (8-10 overall, 3-5 in the Pac-10) are taking a beating in more ways than one.
“We know as soon as we put a full game together, we can play with anybody,” frustrated senior Laura McLellan said after coming off the bench to score 14 points Saturday afternoon.
The difference between this year’s Huskies and the 2008-09 team — as was the case again Saturday afternoon — is that UW has stayed competitive in games. But the past two weeks have made it seem like the Huskies have forgotten how to win them.
Seven turnovers over the final nine minutes of Saturday’s game helped UCLA go on a 13-2 run, turning a 52-50 deficit into a nine-point lead with one minute remaining. Only some missed free throws by the Bruins (12-6, 5-2) down the stretch prevented UCLA from winning by double digits.
“We weren’t all dialed-in for a good duration of the game. That’s extremely disappointing,” Huskies head coach Tia Jackson said after UW dropped its fourth game in a row to set the second-longest losing streak of her tenure. “It shows the character of the team that we were able to battle until the end, but it should’ve been our game if we were dialed-in for more than seven or eight minutes.”
For the fourth time in five games, leading scorer Sami Whitcomb struggled to find her shot. She had just two points at halftime before doing most of her damage from the free-throw line down the stretch — she hit seven in the final minute — to finish with a team-high 16 points.
Whitcomb had two chances to make things interesting in the final minute, but she couldn’t save the Huskies in the end. Her 3-point attempt with 22 seconds left, which could have cut the deficit to two points, bounced off the rim. Just under 18 seconds later, after a backcourt turnover by UCLA, Whitcomb lost her dribble out of bounds with 4.2 seconds left and UW trailing by four points.
“It never should have come down to that,” McLellan said. “We never should have put Sami in that position.”
The loss took on added significance when Kingma went down hard with 46.9 seconds left and UW trailing by eight points. She was visibly shaken and had to be helped up by Jackson and a team trainer, who helped her off the floor and to the Huskies’ bench.
Team doctors examined Kingma after the game, and the UW sports information department said that she has a possible minor concussion. With a week between games, Kingma should have enough time to recover for Saturday’s trip to Pullman to face Washington State.
Even before the injury, Kingma struggled to find her shot Saturday. She was 1-of-6 from the field and scored just five points, her second-lowest total since moving into the starting lineup six weeks ago.
But the Huskies’ biggest struggles came inside, where UCLA post player Jasmine Dixon torched them for 25 points on an array of spin moves, pick-and-rolls and putbacks. The Rutgers transfer was 9 of 14 from the field and added nine rebounds.
UW sophomore post Regina Rogers, who transferred from UCLA in the spring of 2008 and was facing the Bruins for the first time, was a non-factor. She was in foul trouble for much of the night and was held without a point or rebound in 10 minutes of action.
“She was pretty emotional” before the game, Jackson said. “She wanted to contribute more. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get this ball game for her. … She was extremely emotional.”
After falling behind 8-2 from the start, the Huskies went to their bench early and rallied behind the play of McLellan, Christina Rozier and Mollie Williams. A 9-2 run put UW ahead, and the lead changed six more times before the Huskies went into halftime clinging to a 30-28 lead.
Things stayed close well into the second half, with UCLA taking the lead for good on a Doreena Campbell free throw that put the Bruins ahead 53-52 with 5:12 remaining. The UCLA press began to get to the Huskies, who eventually fell behind by nine points with one minute left.
“When they went up nine,” Jackson said, “our light went on, like: ‘Oh no, we’re not let them get away.’ Then we started to come back and come back.
“If we would have had that — just for another 10 minutes — it’s a different game.”
Unfortunately for this year’s Huskies, the results have been all too similar in recent weeks.