LOS ANGELES — The men’s basketball season is drifting away for Washington, and the tone of postgame talk is shifting from patient to urgent.
Washington lost for the sixth time in seven games, this one a dysfunctional 71-60 defeat to USC in front of a less-than-half full Galen Center on Sunday night.
The Huskies are 13-11 overall and 5-6 in Pacific-12 Conference play. Their 4-0 start to conference feels more like a distant pleasant memory from childhood.
As time has passed, the bruises and bumps have mounted and Washington is at a desperate point.
“We’ve got to hurry,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “It needs to start to come Wednesday and we should have started it tonight, but we didn’t get it done.”
That’s because of a putrid start and late turnovers. Washington was behind 18-6 just more than five minutes into the game and down by as many as 19 points in the first half.
After trudging back to 66-60 with 2:02 to play, Washington came out of a timeout working on a salvage job, trying to undo the disastrous first 15 minutes it played to open the game.
But, it didn’t even get a shot off. Shawn Kemp Jr. was called for an illegal screen, his fifth personal foul, and the ball went back to the Trojans. Next possession, an Abdul Gaddy turnover. Following that? An Andrew Andrews turnover.
“Can’t do that,” Romar said. “Especially on the road. Especially when they’re unforced.”
The few fans that did show up at the Galen Center on Grammy night watched Washington get off to a brutal start. After Romar had chided his team in practice about turnovers, fifth-year senior Scott Suggs committed one less than a minute into the game.
Suggs later threw a pass to Desmond Simmons, who was not looking at him, for another early turnover. Gaddy had to yell at Kemp to come up to the high post just to start the offense. Kemp, aggressive early, missed turnaround fadeaways on the baseline and traveled at the foul line, taking ambitious shots apart from the design of the offense.
Meanwhile, the Trojans scored with ease on the way to an 18-6 lead that swelled to 35-16 when USC guard J.T. Terrell — who played at Peninsula College in Port Angeles last season — dunked, then hit a 3-pointer after another UW turnover.
The Trojans chose to put 6-foot Jio Fontan on Washington’s leading scorer, C.J. Wilcox. Wilcox didn’t get a shot off until there was 6:38 remaining in the half. He did go 3-for-3 from the field in the first half for eight points. He was shut out in the second half. Outside of Wilcox, Washington was 9-for-27 from the field in the first half, a mediocre 33 percent.
The Huskies began to reduce the Trojans’ lead late in the half by doing little more than corralling USC misses as it cooled off after the Huskies switched to more zone defense.
Aziz N’Diaye, who finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds but was a crushing 2-for-9 from the free-throw line, blew a layup late in the half that would have cut Washington’s deficit to nine. Still, considering the ample carnage during much of the half, the 40-29 USC halftime lead didn’t appear all that daunting.
The Huskies trailed 63-58 with 3:33 remaining, thanks in large part to a surge from Suggs. He scored 16 points, all in the second half, when he was 7-for-8 from the field. The 16 points were his most since scoring 17 against Jackson State on Dec. 15, 2012.
“It has to start tonight, tomorrow, whenever we practice again,” Suggs said. “We have to change immediately.”
Washington still could not find a winning blend. The Huskies shot a higher percentage on the night, outrebounded USC and had more steals, yet never led. Another night soiled by a bad start was buried by late turnovers and stifled all evening by misguided free throws. The Huskies were 4-for-14 from the free-throw line.
Combined, that leaves Washington stalled out and under .500 in conference play for the first time this season.
“We just have to find that one game where we’re defending, everybody’s playing decently — not everyone is having a career night, just no one has a bad night,” Romar said. “We just have to do that one time to where everybody is on the same page and we can get this thing turned around to where we have some momentum going into the Pac-12 tournament.”
Their next chance comes quickly. Oregon, tied for the conference lead at 8-3, is in Seattle on Wednesday.