Wyoming was everything the Washington basketball team wants to be, confident, resilient, five players capable of scoring at any time.
On Thursday night, the Cowboys came into Alaska Airlines Arena, took the Huskies' best shot and toughed out a 77-72 overtime victory in a half-full but noisy pavilion, withstanding all of the rigors of the road.
Slippery forward Hunter Maldonado broke a 67-all tie with a twisting jumper in the key early in the extra session that put his Mountain West team (3-0) up for good, and down went Mike Hopkins' team.
More animated than usual at times, Hopkins seems bent on not letting these Huskies tank another season — because he likely has no more job security now than Jimmy Lake did — and on this night he urged his reconfigured team to play as hard as it has in two seasons.
Still, the Huskies (2-2), as much as they tried, couldn't find the win column. They let a 62-55 lead with five minutes left in regulation play fritter away, which was disconcerting as they try to resurrect the program.
"We couldn't knock down shots," said Hopkins, whose players shot 32 percent from the field and 19 percent from 3-point range.
That left the UW unable to capitalize on a couple of highly productive outings from new faces, a 30-point performance from Arizona transfer Terrell Brown and a 12-rebound effort over 19 minutes from Georgia junior-college transfer Langston Wilson.
Wyoming countered with even more firepower from 6-foot-9 sophomore Graham Ike, who supplied 26 points and 10 rebounds, and the ever troublesome Maldanado, a 6-foot-7 senior who came up with 24 points and 10 boards.
Early on, it seemed like this non-conference game might get away from the Huskies, who went down by eight points at 10 minutes into the opening half.
This brought Hopkins out of of seat, emphatically signaling for a timeout and slapping his hands together in frustration. An uncontested layup set him off. The fifth-year basketball coach next gave everyone a lengthy dissertation and subbed out the offending player, showing less patience than usual.
A short time later, Hopkins was practically seated on the floor in front of the scorer's table, crouching at a level matching two of his players waiting to go in. He took the moment to gesture forcefully to them to get his point across. He almost seemed like he was going in, as well.
"You're just trying to give your energy to them in a tough way," Hopkins explained.
Unlike last year's 5-21 total disaster, these UW players seem to respond much better to this extroverted coach on the hot seat. They just can't close yet.
"We're a work in progress," Brown said. "We're united. We're going to stay together the rest of the season."
With 13:12 to play, the Huskies trailed 42-34 when Hopkins sent them into a full-court press they've used sporadically in every outing. The players, growling like real dogs, ran all over the floor, encouraged by their bench mates, picking up turnovers. In this case, they tied the game in less than two minutes with a furious 8-0 run.
Down seven, Wyoming responded with its own 7-0 spree to tie the game at 62 on Maldonado's close-in shot with 2:04 remaining.
The Huskies were all set to win this one, which would have been overly satisfying considering the level of competition they hung with.
It came down to a game tied at 65, with just 28 seconds on the clock, when Brown took the ball and went for the win. His four Husky teammates were lined up across the baseline, out of his way. He drove to the basket, encountered Wyoming's Ike and tossed up a floater that wouldn't drop.
"I should have gone strong to the basket and finished," Brown said in hindsight. "It was a mistake on my part."
In overtime, the Huskies had nothing left. It was entertaining, but program recovery won't take hold until they win games such as this.
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