Some victories have a valiant theme. Some are even inspiring. Others, like the win at UCLA, are historic. But the Huskies' 69-65 defeat of Oregon State Thursday night was none of the above. It was impossibly bad, bordering on the comical. But until the Beavers' Chris Stephens missed a last-second three-point attempt, nary a Dawg was joking. More like muttering under their breath.
You've heard coaches say, "This was a game both teams deserved to win." Well, this may have been a contest where both teams deserved to lose. Washington missed its first 11 shots before a lay-in by sophomore sub Ryan Appleby with 14:21 remaining gave the Huskies hope they could break 40 for the game. Eight minutes into the wrestling match the nation's scoring leaders had shot 3-of-17, INCLUDING a put-back and a fastbreak dunk by Jon Brockman. Nine minutes in, the Beavers had committed 10 turnovers, but even with eight steals the Dawgs couldn't get their layups to fall and trailed 13-10.
Just when you thought you were watching the most well-attended IMA (intramural) competition in school history, this unusually ugly game got some help from some unusual sources. Hans Gasser, who hadn't played a minute at USC the previous week, checked in and immediately drained a three. Justin Dentmon, who spent much of the second half at UCLA on the bench with a case of the freshman roadhouse blues, stole the ball and led Bobby Jones for a fastbreak slam that tied it at 17.
But even as Washington pressured and trapped the Beavers into near-submission—they had 16 first-half turnovers and a season-high 28 for the game—the two Northwest rivals continued to play Trading Misses. Oregon State, which scored nearly half of its first-half points from the free throw line (12 of 12), shot a robust 35 percent (7 of 20) in comparison to the Mutts, who clanked their way to a 26-percent half (10-38). By my count, the UDub missed 14 shots from within six feet in the first 20 minutes alone. Even the freebies looked like an anvil-throwing contest as Dawgs missed 8 of 14 from the charity stripe. Halftime wasn't so much of an intermission as it was a reprieve from the crowds' groans with every mounting miss.
"It was a real nasty game," said Jones, who led the Huskies with 16 points and eight rebounds. The reigning Pac-10 Player of the Week was the only participant to score more than six points in the muddled first half.
Coach Lorenzo Romar reminded the press that, prior to the crazy swings of last season's split with OSU, the two schools had played several physical nail-biters. "That's how it goes when we play against Oregon State. By my recollection, with the exception of last year's blowout here, the games have either gone that way or we've lost them by double-digits," Romar said of a contest that saw ten ties and 16 lead changes. "That team has been historically a hard match-up for that reason and you have to give them a lot of credit."
The Beavers helped create some shooting anxiety by rejecting a handful of shots early, causing the Dawgs to rush some point-blank shots. Kyle Jeffers, OSU's long-limbed, 6-foot-9 center, finished with five swats and helped ruin Jamaal Williams' birthday. Shortly after a Jeffers rejection, Williams short-armed three put-back attempts on his way to an 0-for-8 first half. The senior forward, generously listed as 6-foot-6, was the poster boy for the Huskies' frustrations, hitting only 2 of 12 shots (0-for-2 from the line), tying a season-low with four points in 17 minutes. His fellow starting forwards caught the bug as well, as Jones and Brockman combined for 9-of-25 shooting. The Beavs compounded their problems by grabbing 20 defensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
"At this point in the season our defensive field goal percentage is number one in the Pac-10," said Oregon State coach Jay John. "Our rebounding has been solid, although we are an undersized team now with the loss of (point guard) Lamar Hurd. Their 21 offensive boards definitely hurt us. I would like to think that our defense was a big factor because we had seven blocked shots."
With the start of the second frame, the Twilight Zone episode seemed to fade and a college-caliber contest emerged. Forward Marcel Jones, who led the Beavers with 14 points and 10 boards, nailed a triple from the right baseline for the first of 10 second-half lead changes. Shortly after Brandon Roy picked up his fourth foul with 13:41 remaining, Dentmon asserted himself with a strong drive, several hustle plays, and three assists in a three-minute span. The freshman point guard, who was a little sheepish after his struggles in Los Angeles, finished with eight points, a game-high eight assists, and a career-high four steals.
Romar, who had used an unusual three-guard lineup including Joel Smith, Appleby and Dentmon to hassle the Beavers in the first half, got an unexpected effort from Brandon Burmeister. In six minutes, the reserve guard contributed five points—including a trey to stop a 8-2 OSU run—as well as a steal and three offensive rebounds.
"(Assistant coach Jim) Shaw always says that an offensive rebound is an offense itself," said Burmeister, the junior from Mercer Island. "It gives you a whole other 35 seconds to get something else up, and even if you take a quick shot it can change the momentum."
With a sub-par production from the starters and Roy struggling in his second consecutive 3-for-9 shooting slump, the coaching staff got a big boost as the bench scored 22 points. Contributing 20 or more minutes for the second straight game, Appleby tallied nine points and two steals, while Gasser hit both his 3-point shots, providing a much needed spark.
"(I was) looking in these situations for a guy that's coming in with some energy," Romar said. "So Burm comes in right away and he's got energy. He chases down a couple balls and his eyes are wide. You watch Hans Gasser on defense and he's down in a stance and he's out helping. You just look for that body language I think, more than anything. And then, obviously, a guy comes in and hits a couple of shots when you're struggling offensively, that gives the whole team energy. Games like this, you've got to have energy."
Roy returned from his foul-riddled exile to put the Huskies ahead for good, 53-52, on a 6-footer in the lane with 6:56 remaining. Just over a minute later, Dentmon came up with a steal and 3-point play for their biggest lead of the game, 59-52. But the Beavers kept gnawing with a putback and two free throws from Marcel Jones. Reserve guard Wesley Washington kept Washington fans squirming by scoring or assisting on nine of the Beavers' final 11 points. Wesley's pick of Dentmon, followed by a 3-point play pulled OSU within one, 66-65 with 1:15 left, and there was a murmur of "Wazzu" in the building. But B-Jones came through in the waning minutes again for the Dawgs. Just as he did at UCLA, Bobby's clutch free throws with 16.5 seconds—his fifth and sixth points in the final two minutes—gave the UW some breathing room. When Stephens' final shot skipped off, the Huskies controlled the rebound and got a free throw from Roy to seal it.
The final score of 69-65 was the same count as the game at Pauley Pavilion, where the Huskies also rebounded from a 28-point first half to score 41 points in the final half. The similarities are almost eerie enough to conjure a black-and-white apparition of Rod Serling.
"I don't remember the last time we shot this poorly," Romar said of the 33-percent effort, a season-low for a squad that was hitting at a 50-percent clip coming in.
While their accuracy improved in the second half, their 3-point shooting did not. After a 2-for-7 first half, the Huskies hit only 3 of 14 after the break, a mark which will have to change Saturday if the Dawgs are going to down the Ducks. Washington "improved" its record to 15-2, with a 4-2 mark in conference, setting up an opportunity to move into a first-place tie with the Bruins.
"Let's throw that one out the window and play Oregon," said Roy.
Not a bad idea, but given their accuracy on this night, it probably wouldn't make it out the window.