Heartbreak at UCLA highlights Washington’s recurring weakness

Thanks, Seattle Times.

There was absolutely no doubt today who the better basketball team was between UCLA and Washington.

There was no doubt who had the most talent, no doubt who had the overall momentum. There was no doubt who should have eventually won this basketball game.

Having no doubt isn’t good enough, because the UCLA Bruins won the basketball game 75-69.

Washington was given an opportunity this afternoon to bury demons from earlier in the season and make a clear statement about their program, their team, and their place in this college basketball world.

They left their outright conference championship on the table.

Now, we are left anxiously wondering what the immediate future has for Washington.

It actually started with fifteen minutes left in the second half, when up four, Terrence Ross dribbled into Jerime Anderson, who took it the other way for a bucket. The next possession, Ross dribbled it off himself and UCLA got the ball back. A possession later a Ross foul allowed UCLA to sink two free throws to draw UCLA level with the Dawgs.

Terrence Ross was quite the animal in the first half. His four sank 3-pointers played a large point in what seemed to be a very comfortable Washington lead in the first half.

Then he dropped off the face of the earth. Two points in the last sixteen minutes of the game. A non factor down the stretch.

Ross disappearing is a vintage example of what has been mind numbingly frustrating about a Washington basketball team that is perpetually under achieving.

Washington gave this game to UCLA, and there is absolutely no way around this fact. Washington’s complacency and mental errors at numerous points in the second gave UCLA very much a reason to believe that they could, and even should, win this basketball game, and they did. UCLA is not some crap team either that Washington should have blown out. Washington needed to come in here and play their brand of basketball to pull out a quality win against a quality opponent, and for at least 20 or so minutes that is what it looked like was going to happen.

All you need to do is look at the last four minutes of the game. Washington scored 2 points with under four minutes. Two. It came with a solid N’Diaye lay up that tied the game up at 69. They also had 3 turnovers, 4 fouls and 3 missed jump shots with under four minutes.

Ten negative plays compared to two points.

What is the cause of this? How can a superior basketball team that supposedly has all of the elements of a team that can close, not do so in the waning moments of the most important game of the year?

These kids knew exactly what was on the line tonight, right? Isn’t that why they scrapped and fought their way to a gutcheck win the weekend before at Washington State?

Or, did that have to do more with the Cougars futility than it did Washington’s mental fortitude. Washington didn’t have the benefit of UCLA missing 14 of its last 20 free throws.

There is one bottom line with this game tonight – The UCLA Bruins wanted this basketball game more. A basketball team playing more so for pride wanted to win this basketball game more than a team that could have all but clinched an NCAA Tournament berth that day.

What does that tell us about these kids on this team? I do not know the Huskies’ players personally. I cannot personally speculate on their heart, attitude and their level of commitment. From the outside looking in, I really want to believe that the heart and the chemistry of this team is where it needs to be to forge a winner. This team would not have the 21 wins they do if that was not the case.

It’s got to a deeper, and more obvious, problem. It’s maturity, it’s leadership and it’s the same bugaboo that has held this team to being a good but not great team all year.

If Isaiah Thomas were running the point today at the Sports Arena, the University of Washington wins. If Jon Brockman were banging down low instead of Aziz N’Diaye, the University of Washington wins.

As useless as hypotheticals such as that are, it gets my point across. We don’t win because Isaiah and Brockman were that talented of players. We’ve got enough talent right now. We win because of their mental fortitude to grab Tony Wroten by the neck of his jersey and tell him to calm the fuck down and keep his head in the game. Because of their ability to put a hand on Terrence Ross’ head and remind him about the situations in the game and that his shot selection has got to be on point.

Who are the guys on this team that can do that?

I thought some of those issues had been figured out last weekend at Washington State. It was a good team effort to show the will of victory against a Cougar team that wanted that win just as bad. That same formula didn’t win today against UCLA, we needed that next level of leadership.

Today does not change my opinion at all the Washington is the best team in the Pac-12. It does not change my opinion that Washington deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament. But the onus is squarely on these kids now.

I am not going to sit here and question the will and hearts of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross, but this basketball team can only go as far as they will take it. This team has gone through a plethora of gutcheck moments this season and results have been mixed. Mixed results won’t be good enough anymore, it is absolutely go-time right now.

Washington’s Pac-12 tournament will likely begin with Stanford and take them to a Semi-Finals match up against Oregon the next day. That’s no piece of cake, and if Washington were to fall flat on their faces I would not blame the selection committee at all for thinking twice about this Husky team.

As cliche as it sounds, the fate is in the hands of these players. There is not a team they will play in the Conference tournament that is as talented as them, but there could very well be teams in this conference tournament that want to win as bad as the Huskies. Unless the Huskies have something to say about it.