When the game ended, many of the 12,364 fans at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon, remained in their seats, ready to celebrate the careers of the Oregon Ducks seniors who played their final home game on Sunday night. A postgame ceremony loomed.
They let out a cheer as each name was announced, and those muffled shouts served as background noise to Lorenzo Romar’s conversation with reporters in the hallway outside the Washington Huskies’ locker room.
There was no celebration for the Huskies, who left this lavish basketball palace in the same condition as every other visiting team this season: defeated.
That result seemed preordained, given Oregon’s homecourt dominance and UW’s late-season swoon. It was 13th-ranked Oregon 86, Washington 73, the Huskies trimming their deficit to six points late in the second half before watching the older, stronger, more cohesive Ducks run and dunk their way to a 25th consecutive home victory.
The Huskies didn’t get embarrassed. They didn’t quit. They didn’t allow Oregon to maintain the 15-point lead it built in the opening minute of the second half.
But they also didn’t win, and this is the sixth time in the last seven games that they didn’t win, and those losses have at last accumulated to visit upon UW a frustrating truth:
Washington, at 16-13 overall and 8-9 in Pac-12 play, almost certainly cannot earn an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. And that has to sting for a team that began the conference season with a 5-1 record.
“The most disappointing thing for me is what I’ve continued to say – that we’ve made improvements and don’t have the wins to show for it,” Romar said after UW’s sixth consecutive loss in Eugene. “That’s the most disappointing thing. Because we’ve gotten better. But if you just look at the scores, you just look at them from a distance, you can’t tell some of the things that we’re doing much better than we were doing, even when we were 5-1. But other teams have gotten better, too.”
And Oregon (23-6, 12-4) is better than most. The Ducks have experience, size and skill. Senior forward Elgin Cook has all three. And on Sunday, he had 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting, slashing to the rim and proving a handful for the Huskies to guard.
Not that they guarded anyone else all that well. Sophomore forward Dillon Brooks added 19 points. Jordan Bell and Casey Benson each had 12. Oregon shot 53.7 percent from the field and 57.7 percent in the second half, running efficient offense and taking swift advantage of UW’s turnovers.
They rebounded better than the Huskies, too, which isn’t surprising if you’ve watched Washington play basketball this season. Oregon turned 12 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points, and nine of those came in the second half.
And yet the Huskies were in this game, trailing only 71-65 after Dejounte Murray’s basket with 5:05 to play. They trailed 47-32 just one minute into the second half after a quick 7-0 Oregon burst, but senior guard Andrew Andrews, who finished with 21 points and eight assists, led a comeback that cut that margin to two possessions.
But again …
“We couldn’t get over that hump,” said Murray, who finished with 20 points. “We couldn’t cut it to a one-possession game or take the lead. We just couldn’t. We tried. We fought.”
Cook scored. Benson missed a pair of free throws, but Oregon got the ball back, and Cook got to the line 16 seconds later and made one. And after UW forward Marquese Chriss missed a dunk attempt – Romar and the UW bench insisted he was fouled – the Ducks took a 76-65 lead via Bell’s thunderous dunk on the other end, a two-handed flush that brought the rowdy crowd to its feet.
“There were certain times during the game that we kind of let our guard down, so to speak, and they took advantage of it, which is what good teams really do,” Romar said. “They take advantage of your mistakes.”
And so this ended up another game in which UW did enough things well to give itself a chance to win, but still enough things wrong to fully understand why it wound up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Wash, rinse, repeat, repeat, repeat.
“We’ll have a good run, we’ll turn it over, and it’ll lead to them getting a fastbreak point or something like that,” Andrews said. “So I think defensively we played them pretty well. But if we stop the swings and the runs that they had on our mistakes, it could have been a different (outcome).”
Washington’s regular season will end with an 8 p.m. Wednesday game in Seattle against last-place Washington State. The Cougars have lost 15 consecutive games. The Huskies will be expected to win big. Then it’s on to Las Vegas, where the Pac-12 tournament begins March 9, and where the Huskies now must win four games in four days in order to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for a fifth consecutive season.
“We’re still the same team,” Murray said. “We’re still going to come out and play hard and stay together.”
Said Andrews: “Oregon blows a lot of teams out here at home. The fact that we kept with them and kept close shows that we’re a pretty good team. Once we find out what it is that we need to do to bring it all together for the full 40 minutes, we’ll be all right.”
Time is running out.
California 87, USC 65: Ivan Rabb had 18 points and 10 rebounds, Jaylen Brown also scored 18 and the Bears routed the Trojans in Berkeley, California, to finish the season unbeaten at home for the first time in 56 years.
Tyrone Wallace had 12 points and six assists in his final home game for the Golden Bears (21-8, 11-5). Jabari Bird added 12 points while Jordan Mathews had 17.
The win keeps Cal in the hunt for the conference championship.
In order to stay in the hunt, Cal must find a way to win on the road after going 18-0 at Haas Pavilion this season. Overall, the Bears have won 19 straight home games dating to last season – the second-longest streak in school history.
Cal led by as much as 29 and was never challenged after pulling away midway through the first half.
Nikola Jovanovic had 21 points and nine rebounds for the Trojans (19-10, 8-8).
Colorado 79, Arizona State 69: Josh Fortune scored 17 points, Josh Scott had 15, and the Buffaloes pulled away late against the Sun Devils in Boulder, Colorado.
Tre’Shaun Fletcher added 13 points, connecting on all three of his 3-point tries, and George King finished with nine points, including a pair of 3-pointers down the stretch for Colorado (21-9, 10-7).
Tra Holder had 16 points for Arizona State (14-15, 4-12) which could not avoid its fourth straight loss. Gerry Blakes added 15 points and Eric Jacobsen 14 for the Sun Devils.
A pair of free throws by Holder pulled the Sun Devils to 62-59, but King responded with a 3-pointer to restore a six-point lead for the Buffaloes.
King hit another 3-pointer with 4:28 remaining after the Sun Devils had narrowed the deficit to five.
Scott made a reverse layup and the Buffaloes made four free throws in the final 2:40 to seal it.
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