On Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden, the Washington Huskies played a game that essentially encapsulated the entire season in just 45 minutes. With so much on the line, in the same arena that left the team with a similar feeling of disappointment and frustration in early December, the Washington Huskies came up just shy of achieving their goals. In losing 68-67 in overtime against #6 seed Minnesota (a team that finished 6-12 in the Big Ten), the Washington Huskies found a way to fit in an entire season’s worth of embarrassments, thrills, and hope into one game.
Let’s summarize the season using this one game…
1) Slow first half start? Check. The Huskies were down 12 at halftime 38-26 in yet another game where the Huskies failed to break 30 by halftime, demonstrated porous defense, a lack of intensity, and poor shooting.
2) Key players going cold? Check. Typically it has been Ross who started out slow before heating up in the 2nd half. But, Ross actually carried his teammates, scoring 12 points in the half while everyone else had just 14. Late in the game, some of the key figures just couldn’t step up when the team needed them. Sure, Wilcox finished with 12, Gant with 12, and Gaddy had some key moments, but this team just couldn’t find the hot hand to ride to victory.
3) Lack of disciplined defense? Check. The first half was a disaster defensively against Minnesota. If not for Minnesota taking its own share of bad shots, the Huskies could have been down far more than 12 at halftime. But, the Golden Gophers had numerous easy looks, with the seas parting for passes inside or drives leading to big dunks. In the 2nd half, the Huskies tightened things up considerably, allowing themselves to slow Minnesota down and allowing themselves to chip away at the lead. But, what we saw in the first half occurred far too many times this season before. This team was not the typical Romar-style defense. Their athleticism often made up for their lack of discipline this season, but they just never seemed to get into a defensive groove this season. Hopefully with nearly all of this team returning next year they will learn this defense and excel in it next year.
4) Tony Wroten forcing too much? Check. Tony Wroten by all accounts had “flu-like symptoms” and wasn’t at his best. Fair enough, those things happen. Clearly his game was off. But, he was forcing way too much. He kept driving in against three defenders and threw up so much slop that had no chance of going in. Knowing he couldn’t shoot from outside, Minnesota simply packed it in and dared Wroten to drive into the traffic inside. Wroten’s a point guard and he needs to learn that when his game is off, his best asset to the team will be finding his open teammates. His drives to the basket could have really been effective in setting up Ross and Wilcox outside or Aziz and Simmons inside. Instead, Minnesota just keyed in on stopping him and were successful.
5) Need for a furious comeback? Check. Like so many other games, the Huskies found themselves down at halftime and had to enter chaos-mode to get back into the game. It worked in a number of other games this year, where they either came back to win it (think WSU twice, UCLA at home, at ASU), or got back into it with a chance to win (Duke).
6) Lack of clutch play when it mattered. Check. Whether it was holding a six point lead late against UCLA or a six point lead against Oregon State late or having all the momentum by sending the Minnesota game into overtime, the Huskies failed to hit the clutch shots they needed to to hold on. In overtime, they had everything going their way with the emotional drain to Minnesota after seeing their sure victory snatched away with just seconds left following a steal (that was actually an intentional foul by Wroten pulling on the jersey) and then a foul on the elbow on Minnesota’s final shot. But, the Huskies failed to score in the first three minutes of overtime and put themselves back into come-from-behind mode that they couldn’t recover from.
That game had me going through the emotions of the entire season. Whether it was the dismay and frustration of the 1st half, the tension and nail-biting of the slow second half comeback, the thrill and excitement of the final minute, the hope in the intermission before overtime as the Dawgs had gained the momentum from snatching victory from sure defeat, to the massive letdown to see them blow it all in overtime. But, one thing is for certain, they never allowed anything to be easy this year, but they always kept us glued to the TV screen.
This Washington Huskies team demonstrated everything Tuesday night that they had all season. A team with enormous talent and potential, but who just couldn’t get it to “click”. Too young, too inexperienced? Maybe. Lack of team chemistry and cohesion? Sure. Maybe the Huskies ended up finishing just where they deserved to be. But, as we so often do, we are left with the hope of next year. What could this team do if Tony Wroten and/or Terrance Ross decided to return. Would another year together allow the chemical to develop we all hope for? That’s actually hard to say for sure. But, there is certainly a nucleus of players returning regardless of what Wroten and Ross decide that gives us hope for the future.
So, until next year? Go Dawgs!