Huskies' big rally ends in overtime loss in NIT
Washington never saw this coming. The Huskies were the No. 1 overall seed in the 75th annual National Invitation Tournament and seemingly...
Seattle Times staff reporter
NEW YORK — Washington never saw this coming.
The Huskies were the No. 1 overall seed in the 75th annual National Invitation Tournament and seemingly cleared their toughest hurdle last week with a narrow victory over Northwest rival Oregon.
The only obstacles standing between them and redemption were Tuesday's semifinal matchup against Minnesota and a rematch Thursday with Stanford.
However, instead of advancing to an all-Pac-12 NIT title game, Washington players were left to explain how they came out flat early and came up short late in 68-67 overtime defeat at Madison Square Garden that ended just before midnight in New York.
"I never went into the game thinking we were going to lose," said sophomore guard Terrence Ross, who scored a game-high 21 points. "Playing in that last five minutes, there's some things I wish did differently, but there's nothing we can do about it now.
"We came so far back. ... We came a little short of what we were supposed to with mental lapses."
Ross was talking about the game, but the same could be said for the season.
Much like their roller-coaster season, Washington had to continually climb out of a hole and in the end the deficit was too much to overcome.
The Huskies trailed by as many as 15 points (38-23) and were down 38-26 at halftime.
Ross carried them with 12 first-half points, but he appeared fatigued in the second half and needed sophomore guard C.J. Wilcox and senior forward Darnell Gant to help lead a last-minute comeback.
Trailing by eight (57-49) with 2:32 left in regulation, Washington went on a 12-4 run capped by Wilcox, who sank a layup with 15 seconds left to force overtime.
The Huskies fell behind again in the extra period, but after scoring two layups junior co-captain Abdul Gaddy clapped his hands and screamed at the Huskies: "Let's go!"
He didn't want their season to end. Not like this. Not when they were so close to accomplishing something special.
Down three points, Wilcox (12 points) missed a three-pointer near the UW bench with seven seconds left. Gant gathered the rebound and sank a put-back to pull Washington within a point.
After Minnesota reserve guard Julian Welch missed two free throws with 3.5 seconds left, the Huskies had one last chance.
However, they were out of timeouts and needed a miracle.
Gant collected the rebound and got the ball to Gaddy, but time expired before he could get off a shot.
"This game really showed everything from our season," said Gant, who finished with 12 points. "The early deficit when we were down that was the nondefensive part of our season.
"What we showed in the second half, that was the up-tempo Husky team. The get all in your face and you can't do anything team. Then toward the end we had the mental lapses. We were real immature in the overtime period just like we were late in the season in games we should have won."
The defeat snapped the Huskies' three-game winning streak and unceremoniously ended their season at the Garden, the site of their biggest nonconference failures.
"I feel bad for our guys that we were not able to advance," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "I thought we did a lot of good things this year. We were not able to finish, though."
It took the Huskies a little while to fully invest into the NIT and just when they started to care about winning the tournament, Minnesota handed them another setback to end the season.
This loss hurt more than their December disappointments at MSG against Duke and Marquette.
The Huskies were hoping an NIT title would soothe hurt feelings from missing a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance.
Now they enter the offseason wondering what did their 24-11 season really mean?
Washington won the inaugural Pac-12 regular-season championship and captured its second outright title since 1953. In many ways the Huskies exceeded expectations after being picked fourth in a preseason media poll.
They needed to replace four key contributors from last year's team that won the Pac-10 Tournament and lost senior guard Scott Suggs to a toe injury before the season.
Romar predicted the Huskies might have a rough start. They began the season 5-5 and after getting to 8-6, won 13 of their next 15 games and seemingly turned around the season.
Romar won the conference's coach of the year award and five Huskies received postseason honors, including Ross, a first-team selection, and Tony Wroten Jr., who was also voted to the first team and named the Freshman of the Year.
And yet despite the individual accolades and two potential NBA first-round draft picks, Washington failed to make the NCAA tournament because of the early season setbacks and an unconventional late-season swoon, falling to UCLA in the regular-season finale and to Oregon State in their first Pac-12 tournament game.
After the game, the questions quickly turned to the futures of Ross and Wroten, who are projected as first-round picks in the NBA draft.
Underclassmen must decide if they are going to remain in school by April 10.
Both have said they'll make a decision after the season.
"We'll sit down with them and just talk about their options," Romar said. "We'll sit down with all the guys and go over what went well and where we go from here.
"We'll see who comes back and what we look like. But we'll be all right."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen.
Attendance: 7,574. Officials: Ed Corbett, Pat Driscoll, Antonio Petty.