After an emotional Senior Day ceremony, and an intensely competitive first half that ended 31-30 in favor of Washington, it seemed that perhaps the largely disappointing 2012-2013 would end on a high note, a last regular season home win for the three seniors, Abdul Gaddy, Scott Suggs, and Aziz N’Diaye, to cap off a late season recovery from the basement of the Pac-12 standings.
Even after a UCLA run early in the second half, fueled by several consecutive buckets from Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams, saw the Bruins take a 40-33 lead with 16:23 left in the game, the Huskies clamped down on defense and patiently waited for a few shots to drop, in this case a three from Suggs followed by another from Andrews, to cut the UCLA lead to one. At that point, with the Dawg Pack roaring after a quiet first half, and even mostly placid players like Scott Suggs fired up, the happy ending was within reach.
In fact, it even appeared likely after a monster block by N’Diaye resulted in Suggs giving UW the lead, 47-45, with 8:20 remaining. But then the Huskies entered a wild, frantic, sloppy period of misses, offensive rebounds, and more misses, as UCLA refused to give up an open look even as they struggled to rebound the basketball. With the Huskies completely unable to put the ball in the basket, it was only a matter of time until UCLA delivered on the other end, and it was the future-first round pick, Shabazz, that tied up the game 52-52 at 4:21, and it was Shabazz that established a lead, via a trio of free throws, that UCLA would not relinquish. An alley-oop slam to Kemp brought UW within three with only a minute left, but the last shreds of hope were lost when Andrews turned the ball over following a highly controversial (within the confines of HecEd, at least) foul on UCLA that was called on the ground despite the guard’s well-timed three-point heave.
Both teams played fairly stifling defense: the Bruins were held to 39.7% shooting from the field, including 1-10 from beyond the arc. The Huskies shot only slightly better, 41.1%, while winning the battle of the boards 34-28 largely due to double-digit rebounds from Desmond Simmons and N’Diaye. So what made the difference for the Bruins? Free throws and turnovers. The Huskies turned the ball over a horrific 19 times, and managed to shoot a pitiful 3-9 from the charity stripe despite N’Diaye making his only attempt. The Bruins had trouble holding on to the ball as well, handing it over 10 times, but combine that +9 turnover margin with 14-18 free throw shooting, and you have a recipe for a close win in a physical, low-scoring contest.
While the Pac-12 tournament is still to come, as well as a likely post-season berth (to the NIT, in all likelihood), this feels like the end of this season, and in that way I suppose it was fitting. The entire team, and especially the three seniors, fought as hard as they could, but they couldn’t keep the basketball, and they couldn’t make a shot down the stretch, resulting in failure. Either way, all three players were fantastic Huskies throughout their careers, and I am glad I will have a few final opportunities to see them play the game they love. Beyond that, it’s time to look towards next season, and hope that young, improving players like Shawn Kemp Jr, Andrew Andrews, and Jernard Jarreau are ready to combine with freshmen like Nigel Williams-Goss and Darin Johnson to form a better team in 2013-2014.