LAS VEGAS — The cruise almost turned into a crash.
After Washington dunked, defended and strutted its way to a 19-point second-half lead over Washington State, it crumbled.
Desmond Simmons scored the winning basket when he spun in the lane with 1 minute, 17 seconds remaining and the Huskies survived in the MGM Grand Garden Arena against the Cougars, 64-62, to advance to the second round of the Pacific-12 Conference Tournament.
The Huskies (18-14 overall) will play third-seeded Oregon (23-8) at 8:30 p.m. today. The Ducks swept the regular-season series with Washington.
Advancing to that game was a chore for the Huskies.
Washington State’s Royce Woolridge drove past Scott Suggs for the tying layup with 2:44 to go after the game appeared in hand for Washington.
“All the momentum shifted,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
After trailing 50-31, the Cougars scrapped back into the game behind Brock Motum (28 points), Woolridge (12 points) and D.J. Shelton (19 points). Washington’s turnovers helped, too.
“That’s not the first time a game against Washington State has ended up like that,” Romar said. “We dodged a bullet.”
Make that multiple bullets.
Motum leaned into Andrew Andrews and shot a 3-pointer with four seconds to go and the Cougars down two, 64-62. It was a force from the Australian who was looking to draw a foul. Andrews grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
Since Washington was not yet in the bonus, it had to inbound from its own baseline, something that has been a season-long challenge. After calling timeout, the Huskies chose to throw long to C.J. Wilcox who was able to get a couple of fingers on the ball before hauling it in and dribbling out the clock. Had Wilcox never touched the pass and it went out of bounds, Washington State would have been able to inbound under its own basket with 2.7 seconds remaining.
Suggs (19 points) hit back-to-back 3-pointers after Shelton had cut Washington’s lead to 56-47. He even had a wide open look for another 3-pointer, but he air-balled it.
The hoops were a needed jolt for Washington because Washington State was pushing back. Motum, Woolridge and Shelton were the only Cougars to score until Will DiLorio hit a 3-pointer with 7:47 to go in the second half.
At one point, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Aziz N’Diaye had back-to-back alley-oop dunks. There seemed little hope for the Cougars (13-19) and a clear path for Washington. Then, it all changed.
“Up 20, you can go into chill mode,” Gaddy said. “We kept playing hard, but they caught fire.”
Washington State’s clear priority was to make Washington shoot 3-pointers. The Cougars started in a matchup zone and played zone for much of the first half. It was a logical strategy against the Huskies, who shot 30.5 percent from behind the 3-point line in conference play, which ranked 10th.
But, Washington was shooting jumpers much of the first half. Eleven of its 26 shot attempts were 3-pointers and it hit five, despite Wilcox’s 1-for-4 accuracy from behind the 3-point line. Washington finished with 8-for-19 shooting from 3-point range and survived another off night from Wilcox, whose 11 points came on 3-for-11 shooting from the field.
Washington played zone much of the first half, too, leading to a brutal start for the Cougars. Suggs hit a 3-pointer with 11:38 to go to put Washington up 18-8 after a 14-0 run.
The Cougars went almost seven minutes between field goals before Woolridge knocked down a 3-pointer 11:33 before halftime.
Motum carried the water for the Cougars throughout the first half. Washington guarded him with Kemp, Simmons and Jernard Jarreau. Yet, Motum was able to work his way to 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. The 28 points were his highest of the season against the Huskies.
His success kept the Cougars in the game. Washington led 36-25 at the half and threatened to put the game away early if it wasn’t for the Australian’s grinding work on the offensive end. He hit 3-pointers, floaters, hooks and midrange jumpers, putting all of his offense on display.
It just wasn’t enough.