SEATTLE — During the final months of a school year, students can often enter an indifferent dreamland known as “senioritis.”
For a basketball player, the final days of a senior season can have a reverse effect.
The personal pressure ratchets up as the number of remaining career games dwindles. That reality dawned on Scott Suggs, Washington’s fifth-year senior, shortly after coach Lorenzo Romar gave him a verbal kick in the pants.
Suggs scored 23 points on 10 shots in UW’s 72-68 win over Washington State on Sunday afternoon at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in front of 8,508, the smallest home crowd for a Washington-Washington State game since 2004, when 9,055 showed up.
The paltry population of patrons snapped an eight-year run of home sellouts against the Cougars, who have lost nine in a row. It was the second-smallest crowd for the rivalry since Romar became UW’s coach in 2002.
Attendance and Suggs’ numbers have been down this season. His field-goal percentage is at it lowest since he became a regular part of the rotation as a sophomore. And his rebounding has waned.
Suggs sat down with Romar after the Huskies (16-13 overall, 8-8 Pacific-12 Conference) were blown out by Arizona on Feb. 20. Suggs scored four points in that game and had zero rebounds in 30 minutes.
“We talked about playing with more intensity,” Suggs said.
Since that fireside chat, Suggs has been on target. His 65 percent shooting from the floor (13-for-20) and radiant 9-for-14 accuracy from behind the 3-point line (64.3 percent) have contributed to back-to-back wins.
C.J. Wilcox practiced two consecutive days prior to the game – after being held out of practice for weeks to manage foot pain – and found a better rhythm. He scored 23 points to match Suggs. It was the first time this season Washington had two players score 20-plus points in a game.
Abdul Gaddy had six assists, nine points and two turnovers. Desmond Simmons was dispatched to inhabit any space Cougars forward Brock Motum tried to access and was able to slow the Australian.
It was the kind of group effort Washington has been searching for. Not quite utopia – the Huskies trailed by as many as eight points after halftime – but better.
“I’ve said for quite some time, none of us have to have our best game of the year, we just have to go out and play at the level we are capable of playing,” Romar said. “If we are doing that on the same night I think we can be really competitive with anyone, but we haven’t had that consistency this year.”
Simmons’ defense on Motum was consistent. After the Aussie scored five points on the first two possessions, Romar had Simmons to cap the powder keg.
“Brock Motum gets in a zone, he’ll score 40 on you,” Romar said.
Motum scored just once more in the half and finished with 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
He did have support – a rarity this season. Three other Cougars – D.J. Shelton (11 points), DaVonté Lacy (10) and Royce Woolridge (18) – scored in double figures. A 3-pointer by Dexter Kernich-Drew put the Cougars up 43-35 with 18:37 to go.
UW took the lead on Gaddy’s floater with 6:34 to go. The Cougs would tie the game again, but Suggs joined Wilcox, Gaddy and Simmons to go 10-for-14 from the free-throw line in the final 3:18, giving the Huskies a comfortable path to their third win in four games.
The Cougars (11-18, 2-14) fought throughout. A dunk from Shelton jolted WSU to a 24-23 first-half lead. Washington was caught in rotation, and, despite a push in the back from Aziz N’Diaye to rotate in front of Shelton, Suggs decided not to get in the way.
Shelton followed ith a 3-pointer on the next possession, pushing the Cougars into a 15-3 run that swelled their lead to 30-23.
Washington gathered for a quick resurrection. Suggs hit a corner 3-pointer just before the shot-clock buzzer and Wilcox followed with his only 3-pointer of the game. Gaddy’s final-possession drive through four Cougars ended in a layup just prior to halftime and a 34-32 Huskies’ lead.
Defense was an option rarely employed by either team in the first half. The Cougars shot 61.1 percent and Washington hit 56 percent of its field-goal attempts.
When most cooled, Suggs remained hot, missing just one field-goal attempt in the second half, which should make the next heart-to-heart talk with his coach a much more pleasant one.
APPLE CUP HOOPS
The Huskies have won five in a row and nine of the past 11 against the Cougars in men’s basketball:
Sundayat UW 72, WSU 68
1-5-13UW 68, at WSU 63
2-25-12UW 59, at WSU 55
1-15-12at UW 75, WSU 65
3-10-11UW 89, WSU 87 *
2-27-11WSU 80, at UW 69
1-30-11at WSU 87, UW 80
2-27-10UW 59, at WSU 52
1-30-10at UW 92, WSU 64
3-7-09at UW 67, WSU 60
1-3-09UW 68, at WSU 48
* = Pac-10 firstname.lastname@example.org @Todd_Dybas blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports