Photo credit: AP Photo – Christine Cotter
Washington’s stars and depth shined once again in the Huskies 74-63 win over UCLA.
The stars (Matthew Bryan-Amaning (above,left) and Isaiah Thomas) carried UW to most of the way. They combined for 24 of 36 points in the second half.
But it was Washington’s depth that delivered the knockout punch. On Wednesday, reserve freshman Terrence Ross was the hero off the bench in the overtime win at USC. On Friday, Darnell Gant was Johnny on the spot. He didn’t score 18 points the way Ross did, however, Gant nailed the biggest shot of the game, draining a back-breaking three-pointer that essentially stopped UCLA’s late comeback attempt.
Again that’s a testament of Washington’s deep bench. When Aziz N’Diaye fouled out, coach Lorenzo Romar looked down his bench. He considered putting in junior Scott Suggs before yelling “Darnell get in there.”
Gant’s strength is spacing the floor, setting screens and perimeter shooting. He finished the game along with a three-guard lineup that included Abdul Gaddy, Venoy Overton, Thomas and Bryan-Amaning.
“He’s been a starter for us,” Romar said of Gant. “Aziz was in foul trouble. Matt was in foul trouble. Darnell defended and did a good job that way. Darnell is always steady. He can hit an open look. When he gets his feet set. That was a big shot.”
This was an efficient win for Washington. The Huskies took the lead early in the first half and controlled the game until the end. They led by as many as 17 points (52-35) and weathered a comeback bid when UCLA closed to within four (63-59).
The Huskies demonstrated their maturity and their versatility. They played their 2-3 zone at times and by my unofficial count, UCLA scored just once on a putback attempt. Otherwise the zone was perfect on six defensive possessions.
After just one week, Washington has a commanding 2-0 lead in the Pac-10 because road wins are difficult to capture. The Huskies were so impressive this week, a media member asked if they could go 17-1 in the conference. The last time that happened was 2004. Stanford did it. The lone loss, 75-62 at Washington.
The Huskies will be favored in every league game this season and Washington has shown the mental maturity to win the games its supposed to win. The Huskies crushed inferior opponents at home and they haven’t had a letdown this season.
If we’re talking 17-1, then why not 18-0. It’s never happened in the Pac-10. I’m not saying it will. I’m just saying it’s a possibility.
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— Co-MVPs today. Bryan-Amaning was one of UW’s biggest stars. Statistically Bryan-Amaning (21 points and 10 rebounds) played counterpart Reeves Nelson (19 points and 10 rebounds) to a draw. Each had three offensive rebounds and an assist. They dominated in different ways. Nelson muscled his way beneath the glass while Bryan-Amaning outran the Bruins and banked in several off-balance layups. Bryan-Amaning may have put to rest – at least for now – critics who say he doesn’t play well against a tall front line. In the past two games, he’s averaging 19.5 points and nine rebounds against the best front courts in the Pac-10.
— Thomas, the other MVP, brushed aside a question asking whether he played his best game of the season. He preferred to talk about “my guys finishing and staying together and pulling out this win that we had to have.” Still it has to be stated that when Thomas plays like he did today (17 points onf 5-for-9 shooting, nine assists, two steals and three rebounds), he’s arguably the best player in the Pac-10. He was that good. He hit a three-pointer and knifed in the lane for layups. He sank 6 of 7 free throws. He defended and held Malcolm Lee to 12 points and two in the second half. Romar called Thomas a maestro.
— Justin Holiday rebounded from an off night on Wednesday and had a typical Justin Holiday performance. He scored a little (nine points). He rebounded a lot (eight). He made plays (three assists). He defended (one steal and one block). And he harassed Tyler Honeycutt into a 4-for-12 shooting performance. Holiday also did something a little bit out of chacter, he collected a technical foul.
“I was talking,” he said. “That’s all I can say. I do admit I was talking, but I wanted to get the win. I was into it. It was selfish on my part, but we still won. If we had lost I know how I would have took that.”
— Despite fouling out in 19 minutes, N’Diaye did what he was supposed to do. He scored every time he shot, converting three attempts. He grabbed six rebounds and had six points. For the second straight game he fouled out and it hasn’t hurt Washington. We’ll see if that trend continues.
— Gaddy’s shot is off. In the past three games, he’s 3 of 17 from the field. Today he was 1 for 5. Still Romar likes him on the court and had him on the floor in the final minutes.
— Overton also finished the game for the Huskies and it doesn’t look as if he’s back to his old defensively annoying self just yet. Maybe his knee is still bothering him. Overton has gone four games without a steal, which is the longest stretch in his career.
— Gant said today was his best game of the season. He’s scored more points, but he hadn’t hit a bigger shot than his three-pointer with 3:21 remaining. Romar said Gant’s shot was huge for his confidence.
— The reserve wings (C.J. Wilcox, Ross and Suggs) combined for nine points ini 19 minutes. Wilcox returned after missing Wednesday with a staph infection and played just four minutes. Suggs logged six minutes, his shortest outing this season. Ross played the most (nine minutes) and had seven points, but he’s got to learn how to read situations better. The Huskies needed him to score Wednesday because no one else was hitting. That wasn’t the case today and he still put up shots early in the shot clock. We’ll see how much Romar relies on the reserve wings in the conference games. If the stars are playing well, then they’ll get the bulk of the minutes which was the case today.