SEATTLE “”mdash; Joshua Smith saw the ball rolling off the rim and was committed until the very last second to put that missed shot back in.
But that last second ended with the buzzer sounding and Smith flat on his back after diving for the rebound. He was staring straight up at the low, noise-amplifying roof of Alaska Airlines Arena, then put his hands over his head in disbelief.
Smith’s best performance of his career was squandered. The UCLA men’s basketball team’s best opportunity to notch a signature road win was lost in a 71-69 come-from-behind victory by conference leader Washington in its home gym.
“We missed a big opportunity,” said Smith, his eyes red and his voice soft. “Playing a team that’s No. 1, a good team, they showed why they’re No. 1. What’s really important in our league is closing out home games. We had an opportunity to close out the game, we didn’t.”
Smith finished with 24 points ““ a career-high ““ and nine rebounds, once again playing close to his home in Kent, Wash.
This was a place that UCLA (12-10, 5-5 Pac-12) couldn’t win inside in the past. That vexing streak ““ now eight straight losses inside Alaska Airlines Arena ““ continued.
After UCLA went up 10 with less than seven minutes to play, Washington switched to a zone defense to counter Smith’s dominance. UCLA couldn’t find the guy it had been going to all night, and Washington (15-7, 8-2) started a run.
“We didn’t attack their zone well,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “I’m responsible for that. We were a little discombobulated and didn’t execute down the stretch offensively, which starts with me.”
That began a four-minute long cold streak for the Bruins, who watched the Huskies electrify the crowd with a 13-0 run to go up three.
The rowdy arena known as “Hec-Ed” was as much of a home-court advantage as advertised. A crowd that grew irate as UCLA built its lead let loose as Washington chipped right back.
“We couldn’t hear the play calls or anything like that,” redshirt sophomore forward David Wear said of the Huskies fans. “The crowd was really a factor there towards the end.”
An 18-point second half by Huskies sophomore guard Terrence Ross helped Washington take the lead, but UCLA still had a chance late because of Smith.
Smith had 14 first-half points and his start-to-finish effort was capped off by a possession where he grabbed two rebounds before getting a putback through a foul. He missed the free throw, leaving UCLA trailing 71-69.
Howland elected to not call a timeout with about 20 seconds left and the Bruins holding the ball down two. The ball found freshman guard Norman Powell ““ who was on the floor in place of fouled-out sophomore guard Tyler Lamb. Powell’s shot hung on the rim before falling out.
Three straight road games have seen UCLA go down to the wire with its opponent. The latest was more deflating than the other two. Their next chance to win comes Saturday across the state in Pullman, Wash.
“We want to come away from this road trip with one win,” David Wear said. “It’s crucial that we let this one go and we focus on beating Washington State now.”