SEATTLE — The Washington Huskies have lost nine games this season. Four of those were, essentially, blowouts, with final margins between 13 and 27 points. Those losses are problematic for obvious reasons.
But what might be even more worrisome are the four games the Huskies have lost this season — three of them in Pac-12 play, two of them last week — in which they either led, were tied or trailed by only one possession in the final five minutes, only to watch as their opponent, in each instance, pulled away to win somewhat comfortably.
In their Pac-12 opener, the Huskies led Washington State, 71-67, after a 3-pointer by Markelle Fultz with 2:34 remaining. But the Cougars outscored the Huskies 12-3 thereafter, ripping off 10 consecutive points before UW scored again. Game over.
Last week at California, a David Crisp layup cut the Bears’ lead to 59-57 with 4:35 to play, the outcome still very much undecided. But Cal scored the game’s next six points, UW only scored one basket the rest of the game and the Bears won, 69-59.
Two days later, at Stanford, a similar plot: after erasing a 21-point deficit in the second half — Crisp hit the tying shot, a 3-pointer with 4:15 to play — the Huskies allowed the Cardinal to answer with 11 consecutive points, and what had been an exciting, competitive game was never in question in the final 60 seconds.
Throw in an 87-85 loss to Nevada on a buzzer-beater and an embarrassing, 98-90 defeat to Yale in their season opener, and the Huskies are just 2-5 this season in games decided by 10 or fewer points.
Look, they probably aren’t good enough this season to regularly compete with teams like Gonzaga and Oregon. But they’re certainly good enough to at least have a chance of beating teams like California or Stanford — not to mention Washington State — and they’ve put themselves in position to do that. They’ve just collapsed in the final minutes.
“Most of the time,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said, “it’s our inability to get stops, for one reason or another. For sure, against Washington State. I believe (when) we played Cal, with a little over 9 minutes left in the game, it was a 2-point game. I think Ivan Rabb had 10 points. I think it was 45-43 (in fact, the Huskies tied it at 45-45 with 9:14 to play).
“With almost two minutes to go, they had 65 points. We weren’t getting stops. They continued to score. It goes back to that with our team. When we’re getting stops, we’re so much better at it. That would be the case with anyone. But when we lose those leads, when we don’t finish, a lot of times it’s our inability to get stops, and that includes getting a stop and they get the offensive rebound — therefore, it’s not a stop.”
But they also get impatient offensively, appearing to panic and force shots instead of simply running the offense. In the final four minutes of each of their last two losses — at Cal and Stanford — the Huskies combined to shoot 3-for-18 from the field and 0-for-2 from the free-throw line. Those are alarming numbers for a team that is supposedly built to score.
On Wednesday, the Huskies face a Colorado team that has had somewhat similar struggles in Pac-12 play. The Buffaloes (10-8) are 0-5 against league competition, tied for last place with Oregon State despite boasting one of the most experienced rosters in the Pac-12. And two of those five losses were decided by three points or fewer, including their last, a 71-68 loss at home to USC.
On paper, the Buffaloes’ record implies that even the Huskies should be able to beat them. But Colorado still boasts a lineup of capable scorers with Derrick White, Xavier Johnson and George King. A competitive game should be expected.
And that has not been good news for the Huskies this season.
“They’re a better team than their record indicates, that’s for sure,” Romar said. “They have three or four fifth-year seniors in their starting lineup, and then two fourth-year juniors that are playing. So they’re experienced, they’re talented, they have multiple weapons out there on the floor, and I just think they’re dangerous if they come ready to play.”