Jaden McDaniels didn’t have an answer.
After Washington suffered its seventh straight loss on Thursday night, falling to USC 62-56, McDaniels stood outside the visitor’s locker room at the Galen Center to take questions about the latest defeat.
He put words to the Huskies extended scoring droughts, blaming lack of ball movement and an inability to get out in transition in after halftime. He did his best to explain how the Trojans grabbed the rebounding advantage, and why the Huskies’ defense seemed to waver late.
But the last question was harder. It was about UW’s losing streak, the one that started with a loss to Oregon in mid-January and is still growing. Asked what needed to happen to end it, McDaniels hesitated.
“I can’t even tell you,” he said after a pause. “I don’t know.”
It’s not the problems that McDaniels and the Huskies don’t understand. They’re all frustratingly familiar, and they emerged again against USC. But the solutions? Those have remained illusive.
Once again, UW’s offense stumbled through significant slumps. After shooting 44.8 percent in the first half, the Huskies shot a dismal 25.8 percent after the break and made just eight field goals. They were out-rebounded again, too. USC finished with a 45-38 advantage the boards, including 16-8 advantage on the offensive glass. UW led 30-25 at the break, but quickly lost its momentum in the second half.
“The first half showed some great moments of really kicking out and finding guys,” said head coach Mike Hopkins. “There were a lot of positives there. We just stopped being consistent. Consistency is what we need. That’s the thing about it. We show flashes of really, really good and then we show flashes of what the heck is going on out there. We got to eliminate those.”
The Huskies’ defense, which allowed nearly 80 points per game in its previous four losses, held USC to 27.3 percent shooting in the first half. But the Trojans shot 44.1 percent in the second, getting three three-pointers from Jonah Matthews. He finished with 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-10 from three.
Matthews added his name to the list of players that have gotten hot against UW this season. He slotted in right behind CJ Elleby, who scored a career-high 34 points in the Huskies’ loss to Washington State on Sunday.
“I feel like the first time we played them, we did a better job of taking them off the three-point line,” said McDaniels, referencing UW’s 72-40 win over USC in January. “I think Matthews had like one three, but he came out and was on fire in the second half. We can’t let that happen.”
UW’s collapse started when the second half did. USC opened on a 9-0 run quickly erasing the Huskies’ five-point cushion and giving the Trojan’s a 34-30 lead with 16:37 remaining. UW didn’t score until the 15:47 mark.
“That was us not coming out with that consistent effort that we need to win on the road in this league,” Hopkins said. “I thought we were fighting in the first half and then we kind of let our guard down rather than extend the lead.
“The one thing I’ve learned over time is you got to keep scoring on the road. We went through some times where we got some decent looks but couldn’t finish, couple bobbles out of bounds. To beat a team like this, all those things have to go right.”
UW managed to reclaim the lead, and had a 42-41 advantage with 12:14 left. But that’s when the Huskies’ offense stalled. As UW went 7 minutes without a basket, USC launched an 8-0 run capped by an Elijah Weaver layup. By the time Hopkins called timeout, the Trojans were up 47-42.
McDaniels snapped the drought with two free throws, but then Matthews scored five straight points on a jumper and a three-pointer to push the Trojans’ lead to 52-44 with 4:44 remaining. Beyond the scoreless stretch, UW didn’t score a field goal for nearly 9 minutes in the second half. After Isaiah Stewart made a layup to with 12:37 remaining, the Huskies didn’t hit another field goal until the 3:45 mark.
“I just feel like we stopped moving the ball as much as we did in the first half,” McDaniels said. “I feel like if we kept doing that, we probably would have won.”
Nick Rakocevic completed a three-point play with 2:47 left to put USC up by 10 points, 58-48, with 2:47 remaining. The Huskies quickly cut that lead in half on a three from Elijah Hardy and a jumper from Nahziah Carter, but couldn’t get the rest of the way back.
McDaniels finished with a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds off the bench while Isaiah Stewart added 13 points and 11 rebounds. Rakocevic paced the Trojans with 19 points and 9 rebounds.
The Huskies — now below .500 for the first time this season and still in last place in the Pac-12 — will face UCLA on Saturday. It’s a rematch of UW’s first conference game of the season, a 66-64 loss to Alaska Airlines Arena before point guard Quade Green was ruled academically ineligible. Since losing Green, the Huskies have won just a single game.
“It’s like Groundhog Day,” Hopkins said of UW’s ongoing losing streak. “It’s the same kind of mistakes. Like I told the team in there: We got to get to a point where we’re learning from this.”