A desperately needed win was there for the taking.
Washington showed the fight head coach Mike Hopkins had been searching for, battling back from a 13-point second-half deficit to briefly take the lead. But when it came time to close out a victory, the UW (1-9, 0-5 Pac-12) still stumbled.
Saturday’s game against Cal (6-7, 1-5) represented the struggling Huskies’ best chance to snap their losing streak and earn their first Pac-12 win. Instead, the Golden Bears finished on a 9-3 run to seal an 84-78 victory and hand UW its fifth straight loss.
“It’s definitely not easy,” said junior guard Erik Stevenson. “It’s not easy for any of the guys. It’s not easy on me at all. I’ve never been in this position at all so it’s a learning position for myself as well as the team. It’s frustrating, to be honest. It’s frustrating losing games, whether it’s by five or 30. Losing’s losing. It sucks. We’re just searching for a win.”
UW trailed 40-32 at halftime, a lead Cal stretched to 13 points early in the second half. But the Huskies — for the first time in a long time — didn’t fold. They put together a 21-5 surge, highlighted by three 3-pointers by Stevenson. The last one gave UW a 53-50 advantage with 12:59 remaining.
Hopkins credited the Huskies’ defense with fueling the run as the Golden Bears went 2-for-5 from the field and turned the ball over three times.
“We were getting stops,” Hopkins said. “We were defending. We were rotating, we were getting out in transition, we shared the ball — all the things we stress. When that happens, the ball’s going in, we’re flowing, we’re confident. When we’re not getting stops, it’s a little bit deflating.”
UW pulled ahead by four points, 59-55, on a J’Raan Brooks 3-pointer with 10:17 remaining. But then the Huskies defense started showing cracks just as the offense went cold. Cal put together a 12-0 run that put it up 67-59 with 7:20 remaining. UW committed three straight turnovers during the stretch, and Hopkins called timeout to reset.
UW did find its footing again, going on a 12-4 run after the timeout. A Quade Green jumper with 3:38 left tied the game at 71. The Huskies never reclaimed the lead, but they did tie the game at 75 again with 2:18 remaining.
Then Joel Brown drained a 3-pointer for Cal.
A clutch three from an opponent was a familiar sight for the Huskies — it’s a problem that’s plagued them since last season. Cal shot 11-for-26 (42.3%) from beyond the arc for the game. Starting with that three, Cal outscored UW 9-3 in the final 1:55 of the game.
“It’s player execution,” Hopkins said. “If I’m guarding you, there’s a difference in saying I contested the three compared to saying I’m taking away the three. They made a couple really big ones. You got to execute. It is what it is. Players actually shoot better at the end of the shot clock because they have no pressure. There was a couple of those on missed assignments.”
If there was any reason for optimism after the loss, it came in the form of Wichita State transfer Stevenson. He was the Shockers’ leading scorer last season, averaging 11.1 points per game and shooting 37.7% from the floor and 30.4% from the 3-point line.
But that version of Stevenson was nowhere to be seen through UW’s first nine games of the season. He averaged just 3.3 points per game on 25.0% shooting from the field, including 17.4% from beyond the arc. And then Saturday’s game against Cal arrived — and so did Stevenson. He played 36 minutes, finishing with a season-high 27 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, including 6-of-9 from three.
“The biggest thing was he’s a good player,” Hopkins said. “Sometimes you just your mind let the best of you. He came out. We were able to get him going a little bit early. I think that helped. It’s him, it’s him and his mind.
“The ball moved. We had some really good moments of team basketball. It seems like the basketball gods reward you when you play the right way. And when you don’t, they will also take it away from you. We had a couple of stints of that tonight.”
UW had a solid game offensively. Bey and Green also reached double figures with 18 and 16 points, respectively, as the Huskies shot 52% from the field and 50% from three. But a few offensive droughts combined with defensive struggles and 15 turnovers were enough to keep UW from a win.
The Huskies’ only victory of the season came against Seattle U on Dec. 9. They’ll stay on the road next week to face USC and UCLA. USC is 7-2 overall and 2-1 in conference play while preseason favorite UCLA leads the Pac-12 at 8-2 and 4-0.
In short, UW’s schedule isn’t getting any easier.
“There was some really good stretches,” Hopkins said. “We got to build on that. I think offensively, that was the best that we’ve played. We shared it. We executed from the 3-point line. … A lot to build on. There was some positives. We just got to carry it over and put together the whole ingredients, right? Good offense and good defense in one game.”