Thirty seconds remained in Thursday's Pac-12 matchup between Arizona and Washington when Huskies point guard Abdul Gaddy's eyes got big.
Gaddy saw a cutting C.J. Wilcox with a step on his defender, so he attempted to thread a 30-foot backdoor alley-oop pass to the 6-foot-5 wing. The errant pass glanced off the side of the backboard and resulted in a turnover, enabling Arizona double its two-point lead on the next possession and escape with a 57-53 victory.
The obvious question after the game was whether the back-door alley-oop Washington attempted on that crucial possession was a designed play. Oddly enough, both Gaddy and coach Lorenzo Romar suggested it was and insisted it would have resulted in a tying bucket had the point guard not overthrown the pass.
Said Gaddy, "I didn’t see anybody helping at the rim. I should have just made a better pass."
Said Romar, "Go back and look at the film. You’ll see he was wide open. We didn’t complete the pass. It was there."
Whether or not the play was a good call, the result was Washington's fourth straight loss. A Huskies team that dropped games against Albany and Nevada in non-league play is now 12-8 overall and 4-4 in the Pac-12, leaving Washington on pace to fail to reach the NCAA tournament barring an incredible February surge.
Why is Washington in decline after earning NCAA bids three straight years from 2009 to 2011 and winning the Pac-12 regular season title last year? Well, the answer is simple: Its defense remains as ordinary as ever, and its offense isn't as potent as usual.
Having lost star point guard Isaiah Thomas to the NBA two years ago and underclassmen Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten last year, Washington lacks its usual firepower this year and is shooting a modest 44 percent from the field, ninth-best in the Pac-12. Offensive rebounds and accurate 3-point shooting help make up for that, but the reality is besides Wilcox, the Huskies don't have another elite scorer.
Gaddy is a pass-first point guard who doesn't have the talent to live up to the immense expectations Washington fans had for him. Scott Suggs is a capable but one-dimensional perimeter shooter. Seven-footer Aziz N'Diaye is efficient on the low block and the offensive glass but still foul-prone and inconsistent. And the rest of the Huskies are either too raw or too ordinary to be counted on consistently.
In a reversal from past years, Washington actually defended Arizona rather well Thursday but struggled on offense.
The Huskies shot 36.8 percent from the field and didn't make a 3-pointer until late in the second half, with a foul-plagued Wilcox slogging through an 11-point, 4-for-16 effort. No player scored more than 11 points and nobody besides N'Diaye pulled down more than one offensive rebound, making it easy for Arizona to remain competitive despite poor shooting of its own.
The challenge for Washington now will be to remain upbeat about a season that appears to be slipping away. Up next are two teams ahead of the Huskies in the standings, Arizona State and UCLA, with rematches against Oregon and Arizona also ahead on the February docket.
It's going to be tough for a Washington team lacking its usual array of weapons to win those games.
It will be even harder if the Huskies don't execute better down the stretch than they did Thursday night.