SEATTLE -- UCLA walked off the court stunned in disbelief.
After playing at a very high level for 35 minutes, it all came apart in the final five as Washington blitzed the Bruins for a 70-63 Pac-10 victory Thursday night at Alaska Airlines Arena. UCLA led, 53-49, with five minutes to play, but Washington then went on a 14-0 run over the next three and a half minutes and outscored the Bruins, 21-10, to end the game.
"Obviously, a very disappointing loss," coach Ben Howland said. "We had a great opportunity to win on the road in a very tough environment."
The loss ends UCLA's chances of winning the conference title outright and seriously diminishes the chances of the Bruins even winning a share. For that to happen UCLA (21-9, 12-5) has to win Saturday at Washington State and hope that Arizona (24-6, 13-4) loses at home against Oregon.
That best-case scenario would still probably net UCLA only the No. 2 seeding in the Pac-10 tournament next week because of conference tiebreakers.
UCLA's worst-case scenario at this point is losing Saturday while Washington (20-9, 11-6) and Arizona both win, which would drop UCLA into a tie for second with Washington and make the Bruins the No. 3-seeded team for the Pac-10 tournament next week.
Five observations from the game:
1Thirty six and a half minutes won't get it done against elite teams
UCLA's undoing was that crucial stretch of three minutes and 30 seconds late in the second half. Washington made eight of 10 shots during that span. They beat UCLA back in transition, grabbed offensive rebounds, forced turnovers and got to the free-throw line and won the game.
It seemed as if it all happened in an instant.
"It definitely seemed out of nowhere," said UCLA guard Jerime Anderson, who had a career-high 16 points. "I really don’t know what was going on at that time. It was such a scrambled situation. They got a lot of easy buckets, easy open shots. At that time, our defensive intensity wasn’t to where it should’ve been. That run hurt us."
It seemed strange for that letdown to appear in a game they were playing so well, but the Bruins have had trouble playing complete games all season and gotten away with even longer stretches of poor play against lesser teams. Against Washington, the slightest letdown was enough to cost the game.
"They are a good team," said center Joshua Smith, who had a career-high 16 rebounds. "We didn’t lose to any bad team. We just have to pull together and go to Pullman."
2Believe it or not, this was one of UCLA's best defensive games this season
The Bruins played tough, lockdown defense for almost the entire game, suffocating Washington's leading scorers Isaiah Thomas and Matt Bryan-Amaning throughout and holding Washington to 36.1 percent shooting for the game.
Washington came into the game shooting a conference-leading 47.8 percent and was second in the nation in scoring with 85.4 points a game. At home, the Huskies were averaging 95.1 points a game and had scored more than 100 five times.
It was never going to be an easy task to win at Washington, when UCLA has now lost seven straight, but a commitment to defense nearly helped the Bruins pull it off.
"It’s a loss on the road to a good team for sure and it’s disappointing," Howland said. "But is a step back? I don’t think so."
In fact it may have been a step forward defensively. UCLA played with energy and intensity and clearly was focused on slowing the Huskies by beating them back in transition. For most of the game, UCLA looked very good.
"I really liked our heart and our character, the way we played tonight," Howland said. "I thought we showed a lot of grit and toughness."
3UCLA forgot to pay attention to C.J. Wilcox
The UCLA defensive plan clearly focused on stopping Thomas and Bryan-Amaning, Washington's top two scorers, but while focusing on that, they lost track of Wilcox. Thomas, averaging 16.9 points coming in, and Bryan-Amaning, averaging 16.5, had nine and seven, respectively.
But Wilcox, averaging only 7.1 points before Thursday, showed that the Huskies, who advanced to the Sweet 16 last season, are more than a two-man show. Wilcox had a career-high 24 points on 7-for-10 shooting and 4-for-7 on 3-pointers. He had six points during Washington's crucial 14-0 run.
"A couple times he got open on the break," said Anderson. "One time, when I came out, I think they weren’t really set on who they were guarding, and it was kind of a scrambled situation at that time. He hit that three in the corner, and he was wide open. He hit those first couple shots, it got him going, and he kept going."
Coming out of the locker room, UCLA had no reason to pay much attention to Wilcox. He had no points in the first half, but took advantage of UCLA's focus on other players and routinely found himself wide open.
"Wilcox just made every shot," said UCLA forward Reeves Nelson, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. "We did a good job on their two main scorers, but they had another guy step up really big for them in the second half."
4Some of the same old issues reared their heads
Turnovers, inconsistent play by Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt, cramping in Malcolm Lee's legs and losing composure were things that appeared to be behind UCLA, but they all haunted the Bruins once again.
UCLA had 18 turnovers after combining for only 17 in its last two games. Nelson, coming off a monster game against Arizona, went scoreless with only three rebounds in the second half after a very productive 10 points and five rebounds in the first.
Honeycutt was 0-for-6 from the field and had only six points -- ending a string of four consecutive games in double figures. Lee sat out a stretch in the second half because of the cramping that plagued him all of last season, but hadn't really been an issue this season.
Perhaps all those frustrations led to a tipping point as the Bruins got chippy in the second half. It boiled over with Nelson, who was called for a technical foul for slamming the floor with his hands after a missed shot.
"We lost our composure a couple of times," Howland said. "The technical foul was obviously a big play because we’re down two when they go and get two freebies."
Nelson said the referee misunderstood why he slapped the floor.
"I was just really upset with myself because I couldn’t really make anything in the second half," Nelson said. "The ref thought I was upset at him, but I went up to him after and said I was mad at myself. And he said the perception was that I was mad at him and I was like, 'Whatever.' I was just mad at myself and I slapped the floor."
Howland said the team, at this point in the season, should have been able to better handle the adversity of things going wrong on the road.
"It’s March now," he said.
5Joshua Smith had a grand homecoming, other than the final result
Smith, a freshman from nearby Kent, Wash., was playing in his hometown for the first time and didn't disappoint the 18 friends and family who came to see him play.
He had 12 points to go with his career-high 16 rebounds and played a well-rounded game. He was an unstoppable force when he got position inside and clogged the middle on defense.
"It was good,' Smith said. "It’s nice to have family and friends behind the bench."
Still, Smith heard pretty much what he expected from fans, who he said they view him as a traitor because he left his hometown to play at UCLA.
"There were some fans out there that said what they said, I mean they’re ignorant," he said. "They have to say whatever they have to say. It doesn’t bother me at all."
Smith said some of the insults were personal in nature but didn't give specifics. He said he was able to let it bounce right off of him.
"It doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t affect how I play," he said. "If you really have to go down to that level just to say something to get in my head, it didn’t work."
Smith's mom made almost as big of an impression as her son. During almost every Washington free-throw attempt, she made a loud, high-pitched noise intended to distract the Huskies shooter. Sometimes it worked.
"My mom has been doing that since I was little," Smith said. "It’s funny I saw some girl covering her ears while she was doing it. I remember Isaiah missed a free throw and he was like, ‘Dang.’ That’s just my mom for you."
So how does Smith describe the noise?
"It’s a screech slash birdcall slash dying animal," Smith said.