CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Washington Huskies showed over their now-completed season that they were capable of competing with some of the nation's elite teams - but not quite beating them.
That happened again Sunday as a messy UW endgame paved the way for North Carolina’s 86-83 come-from-behind win as the Tar Heels, and not the Huskies, earned a berth in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.
The result ends Washington’s season with 24 wins, 11 losses and no shortage of errors to consider over the offseason.
“I think we did a lot of things right that could lead you to victory,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Just down the stretch we didn’t make the plays that were necessary to allow us to be in the victory circle.”
Washington led by 11 points in the first half, led again inside the final five minutes, and then had two last chances for survival in the final five seconds.
The first of those – the one that will be remembered, replayed and regretted the longest – came as Washington inbounded the ball with five seconds remaining and trailing by three.
Senior Venoy Overton dribbled to near midcourt where he launched a desperation heave about three seconds ahead of the buzzer.
He explained later that he thought North Carolina defenders were going to foul him, so he tried to turn it into a shooting foul and get three free throws to tie.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams later confirmed his plan had been to foul. However, Overton’s timing was off, which he instantly and painfully realized.
“Game over, that’s what I thought,” Overton said. “It would have been better if I would have been still on the bench, where I was most of the game, and let somebody else make that decision.”
The game, however, wasn’t yet over because Overton’s heave was dropped by John Henson of the Tar Heels and out of bounds with the clock showing 0.5 seconds left.
But once again, nothing unfolded smoothly.
First, Romar complained that more time should have been awarded. The officials said they had checked and were sticking with their decision. Afterward, crew chief Doug Shows defended that ruling in a printed statement noting that the clock stops when the whistle blows.
With half a second to salvage their season, the Huskies inbounded to Isaiah Thomas, who launched a shot from near the corner 3-point line.
The shot was short. However, Henson seemed to swat it just before it reached the rim – an apparent goaltending violation. Once again, there was no whistle. And this time the officials left the court without review, explaining that the shot had been inside the 3-point line and therefore a harmless two-pointer that couldn’t have changed the result.
“You have to give it up to North Carolina,” Thomas said. “Last shot, fading away, I just tried to do what I could to get it to the rim.”
With UW trailing 84-83 with 7.4 seconds remaining, Henson knocked Justin Holiday’s inbounds pass to Dexter Strickland, who was fouled with 5.4 seconds to go. He made both free throws to set up the wild final seconds.
Washington outrebounded North Carolina, 40-37, scored more points in the paint and more fastbreak points, and the UW bench outscored Carolina’s, 41-5.
Freshman Terrence Ross led the way with 19 points, with his acrobatic drives sometimes drawing gasps from the crowd at Time Warner Cable Arena. Aziz N’Diaye grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. Thomas provided 12 points and eight assists.
North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller had a game-high 23 points, while the other Tar Heels starters all scored in double figures.
In all, it finally allowed the Tar Heels and their many fans in the arena to celebrate their advancement to the Sweet 16.
Meanwhile, the Huskies were left to lament a promising season when they were good enough to endure competitive losses to then-eighth-ranked Kentucky, then-second-ranked Michigan State, and finally No. 2 seed North Carolina – while also losing to the likes of Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State.
“We told our guys at the end that this was very unfortunate,” Romar said. “Whenever you don’t win the last game, it’s very, very disappointing. But our guys rallied up. ... By the end for the year, I thought we had become a really good basketball team.”
McClatchy news services contributed to this report.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports