This is not exactly a tradition unlike any other. But it has become a tradition all the same.
Yale could not have fit the profile more perfectly. The Bulldogs won a game in the NCAA tournament last season, sure, but they lost four major contributors from that team to graduation, then lost their best player, Makai Mason, to a season-ending injury, and so they came to Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Sunday afternoon as heavy underdogs.
Which means you should have known the Washington Huskies might lose to them.
This happens every year. Home game. Mid-major opponent with less athleticism and fewer prized recruits. Lackluster first half. Poor effort. Double-digit deficit. Mad scramble in the final minutes to make it up.
But the Huskies couldn’t get there on Sunday, losing 98-90 to their Ivy League opponent, allowing layup after layup, offensive rebound after offensive rebound, open jumper after open jumper, their season beginning with familiar deflation.
Last year, the Huskies lost at home to Oakland and UC Santa Barbara. The year before, it was Stony Brook. The year before that, it was UC Irvine. The year before that, it was Albany, then Colorado State, then Nevada. The year before that, South Dakota State.
But this might have been the most discouraging of them all, considering it was UW’s season opener, considering it was the first time the crowd of 7,456 got to watch star freshman guard Markelle Fultz in a game that mattered.
Fultz impressed, scoring a game-high 30 points, pulling in seven rebounds and handing out six assists in 36 minutes. He led a late-game charge to bring UW within four points after the Huskies had trailed by 16 earlier in the half. But UW’s mistakes were too many, and came too often, to overcome.
“I think we point no further than the backboards on our end and their end,” Romar said. “Although we had some defensive breakdowns, I think that tells the story.”
Yep. Yale, one of the nation’s top rebounding teams a year ago, snagged 42 boards on Sunday — 21 each on the offensive and defensive ends — to 29 for Washington. The Huskies managed only four offensive rebounds, while the Bulldogs turned their 21 into 19 second-chance points.
So it didn’t matter that UW tied a single-game school record with 15 blocked shots or that the Huskies shot 58.9 percent from the field. Yale was stronger. Yale was tougher. Yale controlled the basketball.
“Lack of effort. Lack of heart,” said sophomore guard Matisse Thybulle, who scored a career-best 20 points to go with four rebounds and six blocks. “We just weren’t crashing hard enough. We weren’t trying to be physical. They hit us first, and we just stopped.”
That only happened when Yale actually missed. The Bulldogs shot 46.5 percent from the floor, but benefited from numerous backdoor cuts for layups and strong post play. Freshman guard Miye Oni burned UW for 24 points, and senior forward Sam Downey added 22 points with a deft little hook shot that seemed impossible to defend.
Three other Yale players — Blake Reynolds (19), Alex Copeland (14) and Anthony Dallier (12) — scored in double-figures.
“The issue is coming up with a stop, securing the rebound, being in better position,” Romar said. “We lunged at times, we reached at times, and that got us out of position.”
Yale led by as many as 20 points in the first half and led 49-35 at halftime. The Huskies slowly drew closer, cutting the lead to eight points on David Crisp’s dunk with 16:27 to play, then again on a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws by Fultz with 7:42 to play.
Fultz made a long jumper and drove for a layup to make it 77-73 with 5:31 left, the crowd again energized and hopeful that UW could shake its mid-major-upset habit for at least an afternoon.
But Yale scored the next four points, and Oni’s 3-pointer with 1:21 to play put the Bulldogs ahead by 11 points and forced the Huskies to confront an uncomfortable reality.
They lost at home to an Ivy League school because they weren’t tough enough.
“It hurts because we practice hard,” Thybulle said. “We get after it in practice. For us to come out in our first game of the season and not show anything we’ve been working on is disappointing.”
It always is.
PLAYER OF THE GAME — Miye Oni, Yale’s 6-foot-6, 200-pound freshman guard, gave the Huskies trouble all night. He led the Bulldogs with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, and always seemed to knock down a shot when the Huskies started to creep closer.
IT WAS OVER WHEN — The Huskies trimmed Yale’s lead to single-digits in the final minutes and trailed by eight points when Oni fired a corner 3-pointer with 1:21 to play. He made it, and the Huskies didn’t really have a chance after that.
STAT OF THE GAME — No question this game came down to rebounding. Yale missed 38 field goals but grabbed 21 offensive rebounds, an unacceptable ratio for the Huskies. The Bulldogs turned those O-boards into 19 second-chance points. UW, meanwhile, had only four offensive rebounds.
QUOTABLE — “There’s no doubt they were the more physical team. There’s no doubt they were quicker to the ball. I think that’s indicative of the score and the stat sheet.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar
WHAT IT MEANS — The Huskies were certain they would rebound better this year after struggling to do that all of last season, but this was not an encouraging start. UW players were often out of position defensively, out of position on the glass, and the Huskies’ defense looked a mess at times. This wasn’t against Oregon or Arizona. This was Yale without its best player. Losses don’t get much more inexcusable than that.
UP NEXT — Cal State Fullerton at Washington, 8 p.m. Thursday, Pac-12 Networks