With red eyes and a low voice, Lorenzo Romar could say only what he’s said after so many other frustrating losses this season.
That he loves coaching this Washington Huskies team, maybe more so than most he’s had.
That they were so close to accomplishing what many thought their freshmen-laden roster could not.
And that they fell just short, again, an outcome that this time assures a fifth consecutive NCAA tournament will come and go without an appearance by the Huskies.
The clincher came on Thursday afternoon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament, against the league-champion Oregon Ducks. The Huskies led by 12 points in the first half. They trailed by 11 points in the second. They cut the deficit to two. They had a chance to tie or take the lead with a little more than a minute to play.
But you knew how this had to end, right? And you knew that when Oregon forward Dillon Brooks missed that 3-point attempt — UW opponents seemingly always do — the Ducks would then do what needed to be done in the final seconds to escape with this 83-77 victory.
It was UW’s seventh loss by single digits to a Pac-12 opponent this season, and its sixth by six points or fewer.
“We were just so close,” Romar said.
The loss ends UW’s hopes of playing in the NCAA tournament, though it probably didn’t end the Huskies’ season. They seem likely to be invited to the National Invitation Tournament, though they won’t know for sure until a 5:30 p.m. Sunday selection show on ESPNU.
“Regardless of the situation,” Romar said, “I wouldn’t think we’re done playing basketball this year.”
Minutes after the loss, UW players said they want to keep playing.
“I think any time you get an opportunity to put on a jersey and go out anywhere, even if it’s the park, to play the game that you love, you’re going to take that opportunity,” said UW senior Andrew Andrews, who scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half and nearly brought the Huskies back by himself. “So I would love to play in the NIT.”
Said UW freshman guard Dejounte Murray, who scored 13 points Thursday: “If we’re picked to play in (the NIT), we’re not going to put our head down. We’re going to suit up and play with each other.”
They played well against the nation’s eighth-ranked team, racing to a 26-14 lead in the first eight minutes and 19 seconds. Freshman forward Marquese Chriss led the way, at one point scoring nine consecutive UW points. Freshman guard David Crisp did the same on three consecutive 3-pointers. Things were looking up.
But Oregon (26-6) started making shots and the Huskies (18-14) started missing. And even when the Ducks missed, they too often claimed offensive rebounds, a problem that will define this UW season.
Chris Boucher, Oregon’s long-armed, 6-foot-10 forward, scored seven of his 19 points during a 13-0 run that put UO ahead, 32-31, with a little more than two minutes remaining in the first half. Boucher finished with 11 rebounds, seven of them offensive, and the Ducks grabbed 17 offensive boards on 37 missed field-goal attempts. They scored 17 second-chance points as a result.
“In a game that close,” Romar said, “that can certainly make a difference.”
It appeared the Ducks might coast after they took a 66-55 lead on a pair of Brooks free throws with 8:19 to play, but Andrews, the Huskies’ fifth-year senior captain, made a strong push to put his team back in the game.
He made a pair of 3-pointers and six free throws in a span of 3:33 to cut Oregon’s lead to 73-71 with four minutes to play. But the Huskies couldn’t get any closer. They had a chance to tie when Chriss elevated for a dunk attempt with 1:05 on the clock, but the ball rimmed out — UW’s bench argued for a foul — and Oregon claimed possession.
The Huskies got what they wanted 25 seconds later, when Brooks’ 3-point attempt from the top of the key missed off the rim. But Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey collected the rebound, was fouled, made both free throws with 32.2 seconds to play and the Huskies didn’t score again.
“We came up short,” Murray said. “We were so close, every single game. It’s just crazy when you look back and look at every game we lost. We were just close.”
“This group, they’re just right,” Romar said. “This group is right. They try to do the right thing. They want to please, and when you have a group like that, you want them to be rewarded. You want to see them reach their dreams.
“And when a guy’s main dream is to get to the NCAA tournament this year, and when you have a special group like this and it doesn’t happen, it hurts. It hurts to see them go through that.”
Game in review
Player of the game: Oregon forward Chris Boucher was a force in the paint, scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds — including seven offensive rebounds and a handful of putbacks. He made two of his four 3-point attempts and blocked three shots.
It was over when: Marquese Chriss missed a 3-point attempt from the corner with UW trailing by four points in the final 30 seconds. Oregon grabbed the rebound and the Huskies had to foul.
Stat of the game: Offensive rebounds were a killer again for the Huskies. Oregon grabbed 17 of them and scored 17 second-chance points.
Quotable: “Today is not fun. Tomorrow won’t be fun. But if our name is called on Sunday to go play (in the NIT), then we’ll get excited about it. Just like I’m always asked, ‘Do you guys think you’ll be able to overcome this last defeat?’ Guys have always raised up. This group enjoys playing, so we’ll enjoy playing again.” — Lorenzo Romar on UW possibly playing in the NIT
What it means: Another season without an NCAA tournament appearance. Most observers probably didn’t expect the Huskies to get there this season. But after they began Pac-12 play with a 7-3 record, it has to be considered a disappointment that they couldn’t make it happen.
Up next: Likely a first-round NIT game early next week — though that won’t be known until Sunday’s 5:30 p.m. NIT selection show on ESPNU.