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January 20, 2012

Huskies lose to Cal, miss big opportunity

During a week when the city of Seattle was distracted by the snow hammering the surrounding area, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire issued a "state of emergency" and thousands across the Puget Sound lost power to their homes.

Meanwhile, the University of Washington's men's basketball team had only one thing on its mind: Become the top team in the Pac-12.

All the Huskies had to do was win two conference games at home this week; one against the Cal Bears on Thursday night, and another against the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Huskies, after their heartbreaking 69-66 loss to Cal in front of more than 9,000 fans at Alaska Airlines Arena, they're not off to a good start.

"We got beat by a good team," said UW head coach Lorenzo Romar. "Down the stretch I thought our guys fought. We played extremely hard, but we came up on the short end obviously."

In a close, intense game like the one played Thursday, the short end is an even tougher one to be on for the Huskies, knowing a play here or a play there is the difference in a win or a loss.

One of those plays, a missed 3-pointer off the front iron by Husky senior forward Darnell Gant as time expired, may be looked on as one of the defining missed opportunities of the season. If Gant hits the three, the game goes into overtime. With the momentum on the Huskies' side, and one of rowdiest and loudest crowds that has filled Hec Edmundson Pavilion all season, they could have very well come out victorious. But Gant missed the shot, and the Huskies missed an opportunity to put themselves in a position to take over the weak Pac-12 Conference, one that is as open as Gant was on the final play.

"It's the first time I've ever seen him miss a shot that was clutch," guard Terrence Ross said after the Gant miss.

Gant finished the game 0-9 from the field and 0-6 from three-point range. With those types of numbers, one has to wonder why Gant was the guy to take the final shot, when Ross was the hottest Husky on the court, scoring 13 of his 15 points in the second half.

"It was designed for Gant," said Romar. "The last game we had he hit three 3's. He's shooting over 40 percent. Sometimes just because somebody is having an off-night, if you look at the body of work they've put forth, you got to take that chance."

It was an off night for the Huskies in general. In the first half, they had just one assist and shot 34.5 percent from the field, tying a first-half low for points with 25. Ross explained that they were lethargic. While they turned it around in the second half, shooting 45.7 percent en route to 41 points, it was too little too late against a solid Cal team.

Guard Jorge Gutierrez, arguably Cal's best player, was held to just 9 points on 4 of 11 shooting, as Ross smothered him all night, much like the snow that blanketed the city of Seattle. But it didn't matter, because the rest of the Bears picked up the slack. Guards Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe finished with 14 and 16 points, and forward Robert Thurman provided a huge spark off the bench, scoring a career high 16 points while snatching up seven rebounds.

Even with Cal's efficient offensive play, this was a very winnable game for the Huskies, who forced 17 turnovers.

"We turned the ball over too much, sometimes for no reason," said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery.

Despite this, the UW just couldn't quite get it together in time after going down by as much as 13 points with just under 14 minutes to play in the second half.

"When a team gets down like we did it's tough to come all the way back," said Romar.

The Huskies are now 11-7, and still are yet to play their best game of basketball this season. They have a lot of athletic talent, and show signs of being a good team, but are consistently inconsistent.

This was a make-or-break week for the team, and so far, they are 0-1. A win against Stanford on Saturday would be huge for a group of players and fans that now have to hope and pray that, if they lose, they aren't forced to announce a "state of emergency" of their own.

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