Carlos Johnson, making his first career start for UW, replaced Fultz and led the Huskies (9-19, 2-14) with 17 points. Noah Dickerson had a double-double - 16 points and 13 rebounds, before having to leave the game with a little over two minutes to play after apparently spraining his ankle. David Crisp was the only other Husky in double-figures with 14 points. Malik Dime had 11 rebounds to go with his 8 points, as UW out-rebounded WSU 40-31.
After the game Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar termed the injury a typical sprain but didn't believe it would keep Dickerson out of any games. He could not definitively say whether or not Fultz would be available for USC and UCLA next week or for the Pac-12 Tournament going forward.
“We don’t know,” Romar said when asked about Fultz’s status. “I don’t know what to say right now. We’ve got to wait. At the end of the week, the beginning of the week he meets with the doctors and then we’ll have a better idea.”
It doesn’t sound like his knee, the one that caused him to miss game time during the Colorado-Utah road trip, hasn’t responded the way everyone was hoping it would. Romar wouldn’t tip his hand one way or the other when it came to Fultz’s availability for Washington’s final road trip next week to USC and UCLA, or even when it came to the Pac-12 Tournament.
“I’m not telling you he’s playing, I’m not telling you he’s not playing,” Romar said, adding that he’s not as positive as he was the last time Fultz sat out. “We just don’t know at this point. I don’t know any other way to answer other than I don’t know. I can’t tell you.”
Fittingly, all four seniors for Washington State (13-15, 6-10) scored in double-figures, led by the 22 of Josh Hawkinson. Charles Callison added 18, Ike Iroegbu 15 and Connor Clifford 12 before fouling out with 4:14 to play in the game.
The first half saw the Huskies and Cougars play basically identical basketball. Both made 12 field goals, including two three-pointers. They both made five free throws. They both committed seven personal fouls apiece.
So with the beginning of the second half, Washington got aggressive. Led by Johnson, UW went on a 12-5 run, punctuated by an acrobatic and-1 by Dickerson to give the Huskies a 43-36 edge with 16:56 to play.
“We just wanted to get after it defensively and score in transition like we’re good at,” said Johnson of the hot start.
“We were sharing the ball, we were taking good shots, we were executing on offense,” Romar added. “Because of that they weren’t getting in any type of rhythm offensively.”
The Huskies struggled to hold their lead, eventually giving in with just under 8 minutes to play. It was back-and-forth for the next four minutes, but then the seniors showed up for Washington State just when you would have expected them to.
Iroegbu made a layin and then Hawkinson was dead-eye from three, adding an offensive rebound and putback on the play that saw Dickerson get injured.
Up seven, there was no way back for the Huskies, who had stopped sharing the ball and relying a lot on Johnson to stay aggressive. He couldn’t do it on his own.
“We didn’t do a good job of two things in the second half: we didn’t keep them out of the paint and our shot selection at times was questionable,” Romar said. “That’s just not a good combination. I thought we did a lot of things good. I thought we did a lot of things well, but couldn’t finish it.”
Even if Washington is able to win at USC and UCLA next week, the 2016-17 Huskies will have the worst conference record in the Romar era. The 2002-03 team - his first at UW - and the 2014-15 team both finished conference play 5-13. And if they were able to win both games next week they would ensure Romar didn’t suffer his worst overall season record, which was 10-17 during his very first season.
“The boys, we just know we’ve got to work even harder,” said Johnson. “It’s been a long season. Some guys are tired but we’re going to bounce back. I’ve still got faith in us, regardless of the record. I think we can still do it.”
How frustrating is it to come close again and have a lead but not pull out the win? - “It’s very frustrating but we’ve still got faith in our team and hope. So we’re going to try and do what we can to get it done.”
What was the feeling going into your first start? - “Just don’t force it. Coach Ro always preaches to me your game is going to come to you, just let it come and don’t force it.”
Fine line, knowing how aggressive you like to be? - “Yeah, but sometimes I get ahead of myself and just force it and make some crazy stuff happen.”
What was going well for you coming out for the second half that allowed you to get a lead? - “We just wanted to get after it defensively and score in transition like we’re good at.”
What was so hard about getting stops after that point? - “Just mental. We’ve got to lock in more. They are probably going to run it out of us soon.”
What kind of toll has this losing streak taken on the team? - “The boys, we just know we’ve got to work even harder. It’s been a long season. Some guys are tired but we’re going to bounce back. I’ve still got faith in us, regardless of the record. I think we can still do it.”
Different feel on the floor when Markelle isn’t there? - “You can see it a little bit but that doesn’t stop us from moving as a unit. He still believes in us just as he was if he was on the court.”
When did you find out you were starting? - “I think coach told me last practice, toward the end of practice. That just made me want to lock in a little bit more and just try and help the team as much as I can.”
Was it Friday or Saturday? - “The day we left. We left Saturday, so right after practice before we left.”
Opening - “We came up short. We didn’t do a good job of two things in the second half: we didn’t keep them out of the paint and our shot selection at times was questionable. That’s just not a good combination. I thought we did a lot of things good. I thought we did a lot of things well, but couldn’t finish it.”
When did you know Markelle wasn’t going to be able to play? - “I think it was yesterday or the day before.”
Was it a surprise? - “No. We knew there was a chance it could still be sore after he played the games. Just wanted to wait and see.”
Was it worse than it was? - “No. It just hasn’t responded the way everyone would have liked it to respond. That’s all.”
What differences do you see out there when he’s not in the game? - “He’s such a playmaker, there were times tonight where we just couldn’t score and a lot of times Markelle is just able to make a play. When he’s not in there you miss that part of it.”
What did you do right to start off the second half to get to a lead? - “We were sharing the ball, we were taking good shots, we were executing on offense. Because of that they weren’t getting in any type of rhythm offensively. We quit doing that and started shooting quick and started shooting threes and then they got into more of a rhythm and the complexion of the game changed.”
Malik and the strategy at the top of the key with switching/hedging - “We were able to switch, and Malik usually does a good job. Tonight he was underestimating the quickness of Iroegbu and probably stepping up and getting too close instead of gapping and making them shoot over.”
Was he supposed to switch or was he supposed to hedge? - “We did several things. We played the ball screen several different ways tonight and after a few of those we changed that.”
What was the overriding idea behind going all man tonight instead of using some of the zone they’ve been using a lot in league play? - “I thought the beginning of the game the last time we played them they were very effective against the zone, so we kind of stayed away from it tonight and tried to play more man and a lot of the stretches of the game I thought we did a good job. Allowing that penetration, that began to hurt us.”
How hard is it to get the team prepared for the Pac-12 Tournament when Markelle’s status is uncertain? - “If we play this game five weeks ago without Markelle, I don’t think we would have had a chance as much. I thought our guys played right in a lot of ways. Whether Markelle plays or not we have to come out and we have to play together and execute and play hard. I thought for most of the game that’s what we did tonight.”
Would you still consider Markelle day-to-day? - “We don’t know. I don’t know what to say right now. We’ve got to wait. At the end of the week, the beginning of the week he meets with the doctors and then we’ll have a better idea.”
What happened with Noah? - “Just fell on his ankle. He’ll be fine.”
Nothing lasting? - “We don’t know right now. It’s a basic ankle sprain.”
Mood of the locker room right now - “Disappointed. Disappointed because for long stretches of the game we played well enough to win. So we’re disappointed, but as you can see tonight we’ve had some tough losses and our guys fought tonight. I don’t think that’s a problem.”
More or less confident than the last time Markelle will be back to play? - “Probably less confident but again we have to wait and see. I’m not telling you he’s playing, I’m not telling you he’s not playing. We just don’t know at this point. I don’t know any other way to answer other than I don’t know. I can’t tell you.”
With everything being put into preparations for the Pac-12 Tournament, are you hedging your bets that if he needs that two weeks to get healthy you’ll take it? - “I would love for it to happen but we have to wait and see. I don’t have anything to go on right now because we haven’t examined him again. The doctors haven’t examined him again.”