Most everyone had already left Hec Edmundson Pavilion by the time Washington Huskies guard Mike Anderson emerged from the locker room, then took a seat on the first row of bleachers with his girlfriend, their daughter and his mother.
Mya turns 1 year old on Monday. She lives with Anderson’s girlfriend, Bria, in his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut, so her presence at Saturday’s game against 13th-ranked Utah — senior day for Anderson and teammate Shawn Kemp Jr. — was a big deal.
Anderson wept as he held Mya during the pregame ceremony, using his warmup jersey to wipe tears from his eyes. He knew this would be an emotional day. A few hours later, he was at ease as he watched and redirected his daughter as she crawled across the hardwood, a touchingly simple father-daughter moment that capped one of the brightest days of Anderson’s career at UW.
Mya, of course, won’t remember. But her dad won’t ever forget it.
It was that kind of day for all of the Huskies, who seemingly packaged every bit of the savvy and focus that so frustratingly eluded them for so long into a single, unlikely victory against a bigger, stronger, more talented opponent.
It was Washington 77, Utah 68, the 13-point underdog Huskies overcoming injuries, a distinct lack of size and a three-game losing streak to win their final home game and make winners of Anderson and Kemp, who did not play due to a strained calf, in their final collegiate home game.
The Huskies (16-14, 5-13 Pac-12) assured themselves of a final overall record above .500, and will face Stanford at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.
A certain level of dishonesty would be required of anyone who claims to have seen this coming. The Huskies had lost 10 of their previous 11 games, including an ugly 64-47 beating by so-so Colorado on Thursday night. They were playing without their strongest post player (Kemp), one of their better 3-point shooters (freshman Donaven Dorsey, who missed his second consecutive game with a toe injury), and again played with just seven healthy scholarship players. Only two of them stand taller than 6-foot-7.
So how did the Huskies beat the same Utah (23-7, 13-5) team that blasted them, 77-56 — with UW near full-strength — six weeks ago in Salt Lake City?
“Maybe the emotions of senior day,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar pondered. “I think our guys love Shawn and Mike. Maybe that was it. I think the opponent, Utah. I think our guys remember what happened when we went to Utah. I think our guys understood that if we didn’t come focused, we could lose by 40 to 50 points. We need to come focused. So you put all that together in the pot, and maybe that helps.”
It helped, too, that sophomore point guard Nigel Williams-Goss played one of his better games this season, scoring a game-high 28 points on 11 for 18 shooting, grabbing six rebounds and sinking a 3-pointer that provided crucial separation in the final 70 seconds.
Anderson, who lamented earlier this week that he didn’t score more during his two-year career at UW, added 15 points thanks to a 3 for 3 effort beyond the 3-point arc. Andrew Andrews chipped in 16 points, successfully bulling his way to the rim a few times to help the Huskies sustain a tenuous second-half lead. Jernard Jarreau, the 6-foot-10 junior forward playing in his fifth game since returning from knee surgery, scored a career-best 14 points and made three 3-pointers — prior to Saturday he’d made two total in his career — in 39 minutes.
Little-used center Gilles Dierickx, recently pressed into regular action, logged 31 minutes and grabbed six rebounds. Walk-on guard Dan Kingma, all 5-foot-10, 155 pounds of him, played 13 minutes and scrambled all around the top of UW’s 2-3 zone that frustrated the typically hot-shooting Utes.
Utah forward Jakob Poeltl took advantage of UW’s size disadvantage, scoring 18 points on 8 for 8 shooting. Delon Wright navigated the lane for a team-high 21 points. But that was fine with the Huskies. They were more concerned about contesting perimeter shots after Utah burned them for 11 3-pointers back in January.
The Utes made just 5 of 19 from beyond the arc Saturday. The Huskies hit 8 of 14, and shot 51 percent from the field — the highest clip allowed by Utah this season.
“Guys were really locked in, not making as many mental mistakes,” Williams-Goss said. “I know a lot of postgame interviews I’ve done, I’ve talked about the mental mistakes that we’ve made, and things that we could correct, and things that were in our control. And today, I felt like we did a good job not only executing the scout, but executing the scout for 40 minutes, and that’s big when you’re playing such a great team like Utah.”
The Utes led 36-31 at halftime, and 45-38 before the Huskies made their move. Anderson and Andrews keyed a 9-0 run to give UW a 47-45 lead midway through the second half, and the Huskies didn’t trail again.
Williams-Goss dropped in floaters. Andrews finished at the rim. Jarreau tossed in jumpers like he never has before. And the Huskies, despite playing zone the entire game, boxed out effectively enough to outrebound Utah, 28-23 — and 17-4 in the second half.
The clinching shot was probably Williams-Goss’ 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, the jumper he stepped into atop the key and buried to give the Huskies a 67-60 lead with 1:11 to go.
Free throws followed. And UW made all of them to seal their most improbable victory of the season.
“I just wanted to get the win,” Anderson said, “for the seniors, the team and Coach (Romar). Especially since it’s the last home game. Everybody wanted to get the win.”
It was a cathartic end to what turned into a disastrous regular season. If UW hadn’t pulled off this upset, it would have finished with the worst conference record of Romar’s 13-year tenure.
But for two hours Saturday, the Huskies sidestepped their misery.
“I really am proud of our guys and commend them for being able to come back today and generate some energy and focus,” Romar said. “Hopefully, we’ll take that into the (Pac-12) tournament.”