Washington State guard Malachi Flynn dribbled to the hoop and scored, then dribbled to the hoop and scored again, two layups in a 35-second span turning a tie game into a four-point lead.
The Washington Huskies led their Pac-12 opener on Jan. 1 against the Cougars by four points with 2:30 remaining, seemingly in reasonable position to begin league play with a victory. But WSU scored 12 of the game’s final 15 points and won, 79-74, handing UW a come-from-ahead loss that wound up a harbinger for how the Huskies would handle late-game stress the rest of this season.
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar hoped the collapse would signal a wake-up call. Instead, it began a pattern: the Huskies, losers of nine consecutive games as they prepare for Sunday’s 5:30 p.m. rematch against WSU, have played seven Pac-12 contests decided by 10 or fewer points. They have lost six of them. And that doesn’t include 11-point losses at Arizona State and Arizona, both games in which the Huskies were competitive but failed in the final minutes.
The Cougars, meanwhile, sit at 5-10 in Pac-12 play, a frustrating mark still better than what most anticipated; Pac-12 media picked WSU to finish last in the league’s preseason poll after the Cougars won a single conference game last season and ended the year on a 17-game losing streak.
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WSU, though, has improved steadily throughout coach Ernie Kent’s third season, the most recent evidence an 86-71 thumping of Arizona State in Pullman last week. (In fact, the Cougars swept ASU this season. And ASU swept the Huskies.)
“We know that we have to play a 40-minute game to be successful against them,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said of WSU. “We certainly respect what they’re doing. They have four seniors out there that have been through the wars. I think Coach Kent and their staff are doing a good job with their team. I think we are aware of that and respect them.”
And while the Huskies (9-18, 2-13 Pac-12) aren’t quite as bad as the Cougars were last season, they are still in danger of finishing the season on a double-digit losing streak. Their current, nine-game losing streak is tied for the longest in school history, and also represents the longest single-season conference losing streak in school history. UW has also lost 11 consecutive Pac-12 road games dating to last season; that ties for the second-longest conference road losing streak in school history, behind only a 13-game skid from Jan. 20, 2001 to Feb. 9, 2002.
A loss Sunday would guarantee the Huskies their worst league record in Romar’s 15-season tenure. They haven’t won fewer than five conference games in a season since 2001-02, when they finished 4-14. With a trip next week to UCLA and USC, this weekend represents UW’s best remaining chance at a victory.
They should at least be closer to full strength. Romar said star guard Markelle Fultz has used this week to rest the sore knee that kept him out of two games two weeks ago, before he returned for games last week against ASU and Arizona. And senior forward Malik Dime, who returned from injury and suspension to play last week for the first time since Jan. 7, continues to condition himself into better shape.
Romar said WSU is a better team than the one that beat the Huskies in January, but he seems to think the same of his own squad, too. UW played one of its best games of the season in a 76-68 loss last week to No. 5 Arizona, hanging within one possession in the final minutes before fading.
That already happened once against WSU this season. But Romar thinks the Arizona effort could be instructive.
“I think we gave ourselves a little confidence in how if we go out and try to play the right way the entire game, what potentially can happen,” Romar said. “Even in this short season we have left.”
WASHINGTON (9-18, 2-13 PAC-12) AT WASHINGTON STATE (12-15, 5-10)
5:30 p.m., Beasley Coliseum, Pullman
TV: ESPNU. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
All-time series: Washington leads, 181-103.
Statistics for 2016-17:
22 Malachi Flynn, G (6-1, fr.): 10.8 ppg, 2.9 apg.
2 Ike Iroegbu, G (6-2, sr.): 12.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg.
23 Charles Callison, G (6-0, sr.): 8.7 ppg, 2.1 apg.
24 Josh Hawkinson, F (6-10, sr.): 15.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg.
42 Conor Clifford, F (7-0, sr.): 9.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg.
20 Markelle Fultz, G (6-4, fr.): 23.2 ppg, 5.9 apg, 5.7 rpg.
1 David Crisp, G (6-0, so.): 14.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg.
4 Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, so.): 9.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg.
15 Noah Dickerson, F (6-8, so.): 11.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg.
10 Malik Dime, F (6-9, sr.): 5.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.7 bpg.
Scouting report: Despite owning a better overall and conference record, the Cougars sit 32 spots behind the Huskies in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, at No. 197 to UW’s No. 165. … WSU ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring margin, fifth in field-goal percentage, 10th in field-goal percentage defense, second in free-throw percentage and fifth in 3-point percentage. … Hawkinson, a senior from Shoreline, has again been a double-double machine. He is one of only three Pac-12 players averaging a double-double this season. … WSU’s five Pac-12 victories this season: Washington (away), Oregon State (home), ASU (home and away) and Colorado (home). The Cougars’ win over ASU last week snapped a five-game losing streak. … Flynn, a freshman guard out of Bellarmine Prep, leads WSU in 3-point shooting at 41.8 percent. Callison, at 41.6 percent, gives WSU two players shooting above the 40-percent mark from long range.
Christian Caple: email@example.com