UW Men's Basketball | Harden leads ASU over Huskies, 77-63
Seattle Times staff reporter
The sun shone brightly through the windows of Edmundson Pavilion Saturday afternoon, blinding some fans sitting in the upper reaches of the arena.
But by the time the game had ended, the sun had begun to set as darkness descended not only on the arena but on Washington's season.
Certainly, any talk of the NCAA -- save for winning the Pac-10 men's basketball tournament -- was muted by Saturday's 77-63 loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils.
"I know we just blew it," said Washington forward Jon Brockman when asked about the implications of the defeat. "We could have passed up four teams [in the Pac-10 standings]."
Instead, the Huskies (15-13 overall, 6-9 Pac-10) stayed in neutral -- tied for eighth place with Oregon-- perpetuating a frustrating one-step forward, one-step back routine that has lasted all season.
Any hope emboldened by Thursday's win over Arizona was extinguished quickly by the Sun Devils, who never trailed and led by at least five the final 30 minutes.
"We knew what we needed to do, we just didn't do it," said Huskies senior guard Tim Morris. "Maybe our legs were tired, or it was a letdown from Thursday. But I felt like we knew the level we needed to get to. It just didn't happen."
The Huskies, for instance, knew Arizona State would be deliberate on offense and work for open three-pointers. Still, they couldn't stop it as the Sun Devils hit 13 of 25 from beyond the arc, 9 of 15 in the second half.
They knew guard James Harden would try to take over when all else broke down. Yet they couldn't stop the Arizona State freshman, as he scored 25 points and hit 8 of 12 free throws.
And Washington knew the Sun Devils would stay all game in a zone defense that would require patience to exploit.
But the Huskies couldn't do it, taking 10 three-pointers in their first 17 shots. They hit just two of those three-pointers and four threes in the game.
"We settled for a lot of outside shots, and that's just playing into their hands,'' Brockman said, adding that the Huskies played smarter in beating the Sun Devils 72-61 in Tempe last month.
After Arizona State's Rihards Kuksiks hit a three-pointer on the first possession of the game, the Huskies never even managed a tie.
The Sun Devils (17-9, 7-7) threatened to blow the game open early, taking a 31-19 lead with 5:27 left in the first half. But the Huskies fought back, holding ASU to just one point the rest of the half and cutting the deficit to 32-26 at halftime.
They were lucky to be that close making just 9 of 33 shots, 27.3 percent -- their lowest first-half shooting percentage of the season.
The Sun Devils were determined not to lose a key game in their efforts to make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003.
"Our mind-set was a lot more aggressive [than the first game against UW]," said Arizona State guard Jamelle McMillan, a graduate of Seattle's O'Dea High School and the son of former Sonics coach Nate McMillan. "We were a little more anxious, and it carried over into the game."
Kuksiks, a 6-foot-6 freshman who hadn't played against UW the first time, hit another three-pointer nine seconds into the second half, and the Sun Devils eventually built a 59-42 lead with 10:42 remaining.
The Huskies played like the season was on the line for the next three minutes, scoring nine in a row to make it 59-51 with 7:55 left. But Harden followed with a three and a midrange jumper, and ASU never led by fewer than 11 the rest of the way.
"You can only come back so many times before you are worn down," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
He has to hope that doesn't apply to the season as well. Washington finishes with three tough games in a row on the road -- at Stanford, California and Washington State.
The Huskies will have to win at least one of those to assure a winning overall record. If not, UW would have to win at least two games in the Pac-10 tournament to simply get to .500 for the season and be a logical candidate for any kind of postseason.
So much was at stake and the Huskies seemed to have so much momentum after Thursday. Yet players were left scratching their heads at being so outclassed Saturday.
"At some point during the season you'd think we'd gain confidence and see how [we] play when we are playing well," said senior guard Ryan Appleby, who was 4-of-16 shooting in his last home game barring a postseason home game. "I don't know why we aren't learning from our wins.''
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