With speculation swirling about Coach Mike Hopkins’ job status following a disappointing 6th season in Seattle, it was clear the #8-seed Huskies needed to play a good game to make him feel secure. Instead the Husky offense was well behind a point-per-minute pace for much of the 1st half and despite holding a lead for brief moments in the 2nd half the Dawgs couldn’t close it out. Colorado made their 5 of their final 6 shots to pull away in final few minutes and win 74-68. The Huskies finish 16-16 on the season.
Things did not get off to a quick start for the Husky offense. It took a full 6 minutes for Washington get their second basket of the game on a Jamal Bey layup. Both of those first two baskets happened on nice feeds from Keyon Menifield which became a trend. If the Huskies tried to go 1v1, the shot wasn’t going in or they wouldn’t get a shot off period. The only way a basket happened is if Menifield or Koren Johnson set up a teammate with a nice pass.
Colorado got out to an 11-4 start following that Bey layup and things continued to trend in that direction. Tristan da Silva was the only player for either team that seemed capable of scoring on a regular basis as he had 9 points at halftime and made his first 3 shots.
The Huskies got to 10 points and then stayed there...and stayed there...and stayed there. It ended up a 6:53 scoring drought for the Dawgs as predictably a 3 big lineup of Braxton Meah, Langston Wilson, and Keion Brooks Jr. didn’t do much to score the ball. Fortunately for Washington though the Buffs didn’t show an inclination to get the ball in the basket with a much greater frequency. Colorado only managed 6 points in that time which means the lead went from 14-10 to 20-12 by the time Washington got that basket on a Keion Brooks layup.
Unfortunately, Colorado started to heat up a bit just before the Husky basket which turned the 6-0 run into a 12-2 run and all of a sudden the Dawgs trailed 26-12 with 2:20 left in the first half and the game appeared just about over. Koren Johnson finally jump started the offense with some aggression. He drove the ball and went 4/4 at the free throw line over the next few minutes. Braxton Meah chipped in with a pair of dunks the last of which was on a nice feed from Menifield in the closing seconds. That run brought the Huskies to within a respectable margin at the break by a score of 28-20.
At halftime the freshman duo of Menifield and Johnson were 0/6 from the field including 0/5 from field but had 6 combined assists on Washington’s 7 made field goals. No Husky had more than 5 points.
Suddenly after halftime the floodgates opened up on the offense. Washington hit a pair of 3-pointers (one by Menifield, one by Bajema) in the first minute coming out of the break to suddenly put the Huskies down by only 2 points. Colorado countered with a pair of dunks from 7-footer Lawson Lovering.
The Dawgs continued to chip away at Colorado’s advantage primarily on the backs of Keion Brooks and Koren Johnson. That duo scored 18 of Washington’s next 23 points and Johnson pushed the ball into traffic in transition but got the layup to fall to give UW their first lead at 47-46 with 9:45 remaining.
The two teams went back and forth for a few possessions but Colorado managed consecutive baskets to break a tie and Hop called a timeout trailing 54-50. For once setting up an out of timeout play worked for the Huskies as Cole Bajema got open in the corner and knocked down a 3-pointer to but the deficit to one point. But Colorado got an offensive rebound and kicked it out to counter with a made 3 of their own.
Braxton Meah got a taste of his own medicine when Colorado center Lawson Lovering missed the front end of a 1-and-1 but a lane violation gave him another chance and gifted the Buffs one free point. Washington seemed to maybe get some momentum as Keion Brooks hit a tough contested midrange jumper then Colorado threw the ball out of bounds. But the Huskies answered by Brooks doing the same thing, missing an open Cole Bajema with a fastball that sailed into the crowd.
Washington had a chance to get the ball trailing by a single point but Bey and Meah both went for the rebound with no Buff nearby, the ball bounced off both of them, and it landed straight in a Colorado player’s hands under the basket for an easy layup. Washington turned it over on the next possession leading to a slam dunk in transition by Colorado giving them a 64-59 lead with 2.5 minutes left.
The Huskies needed the basketball gods to shine their light upon them to have a chance and they got it. It looked like Colorado may have blocked a Cole Bajema 3-point shot but he barely got Cole’s hand on the follow through and he made all 3 foul shots. Washington’s defense went to man-to-man and Colorado schemed up an open backdoor layup but Ethan Wright blew it as it rimmed out. Cole Bajema drove the ball on the other end and Colorado tried to take the charge but was in the restricted area so was called a block. However, Bajema missed the free throw trying to finish off the and-1 and so the game was tied at 66-66.
The good luck ran out after that minute-long burst. Washington got a Colorado driver seemingly stuck in the air but he managed to find an open shooter on the perimeter and Luke O’Brien nailed the 3-pointer over Cole Bajema’s outstretched arms. Immediately after Keyon Menifield tried to make the same play but threw it straight to a Colorado defender. Julian Hammond answered with a pull-up midrange jumper with 25 seconds left and that ended Washington’s chances.
Cole Bajema ended up tying a team high with 16 points after scoring just 19 over UW’s final 6 regular season games combined. Keion Brooks also had 16 but only had a single rebound plus 4 turnovers. Koren Johnson had 15 points and 3 assists with 0 turnovers in probably his best game of the season given the environment.
So begins what seems likely to be a tumultuous offseason. Only Jamal Bey is out of eligibility but there are sure to be other players planning to move on from the program. Washington fans will hope though that the freshman guard duo of Koren Johnson and Keyon Menifield stick around as does center Braxton Meah to form the foundation for whatever the next iteration of Washington basketball looks like.
We’ll have more pieces providing a more detailed post-mortem for this season in the coming days and weeks.