Photo credit: AP Photo – Elaine Thompson
Two questions after Washington destroyed Cal State Northridge 74-51 on Thursday at Edmundson Pavilion.
Are the Huskies this good? Or maybe the Matadors are a young team that was simply overwhelmed by better talent?
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Washington hasn’t looked this dominating since it toppled Houston Baptist 88-65 nearly a month ago. The Huskies also had nice wins when it hosted a three-game tournament to start the season.
But Cal State didn’t provide much of a challenge, which is somewhat upsetting because Washington needed a stiffer test before the starting Pac-12 play next week. Washington needed a team like South Dakota State to make them run through multiple screens and force the Huskies to execute in the half court.
The Matadors didn’t do that. They wilted beneath UW’s defensive pressure. Washington forced a season-high 22 turnovers and held Cal State to 24.1 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent (2 of 10) on three-pointers. Both statistics are season bests for the Huskies.
Regardless of the competition Washington’s defense improved since the last outing when it allowed 92 points. Abdul Gaddy and Tony Wroten Jr. were better on-ball defenders and didn’t easily allow the CSUN guards to penetrate the lane.
When the Matadors got inside, Darnell Gant did a nice job defending the basket. He had at least two deflections on entry passes. Desmond Simmons did a nice job protecting the rim and Aziz N’Diaye smothered shots or swallowed rebounds. And Wroten drew a charge in the first half, which might have been his best defensive play of the season. He applies pressure on the ball and makes highlights when he rips opponents in the open court, but he showed signs of improvement when he stepped in front of CSUN player who was driving to the rim and drew an offensive foul.
It was a simple and smart play indicative of the kind of night the Huskies had. They were quicker with the defensive rotations and dominated the glass. UW won the rebound battle 44-30.
“There were some good quality minutes where our effort would be fine no matter who we are playing especially the first 10 or 12 minutes of that game, and we just need to stretch it out longer,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “The first thing we are doing is keeping the ball in front of us. There was not a whole lot of dribble penetration.
“There were not a lot of guys getting to the rim on us, and when they did get to the rim our rotations were on point. I thought we were covering each other, we were seeing the basketball, we were protecting the basket, and we were getting back in transition. Last I thought we did a good job of boxing out and rebounding the basketball.
Romar wanted to see improvement with the offense and it appeared as if players finally fell into roles.
Terrence Ross took the most shots. Gaddy ran the offense. C.J. Wilcox spotted up for open jumpers. N’Diaye was imposing inside and four players had at least seven rebounds. Desmond Simmons and Wroten provided energy. Freshmen backup forwards Martin Breunig and Shawn Kemp Jr. weren’t a big factor on offense, but they combined for five blocks and four rebounds.
That’s a winning formula. It worked beautifully against Cal State, but it remains to be seen if it will be effective against Oregon State next Thursday and the Pac-12.
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— When it’s difficult to pick a star, you know the Huskies are balanced and most likely playing well. That’s the way it was tonight. Ross (right) stood out more than others partly because he scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half when the game was still somewhat in doubt. The Huskies were looking to feed him shots and finished with 11 in the first half and 14 in the game. Ross also had eight rebounds.
“We learned what we need to do better, we learned what we’re good at, and we learned what works for us,” Ross said. “Tonight, we made it clear that we had to play defense and that’s what we did.”
— Gaddy took all five of his shot behind the arc. Not sure if that’s what Romar has in mind for his starting point guard. But you can be sure Romar absolutely loved how Gaddy ran the offense. Who wouldn’t love a career-high eight assists and just one turnover in 30 minutes. That’s a ratio that wins games. Gaddy rarely went inside. He didn’t have a rebound and didn’t penetrate for layups. He distributed the ball making sure to find the open man. He pushed the ball in transition. He also kept the Matadors guards outside the paint.
— Gant is averaging nine rebounds in the past three games. which is amazing considering he averages 3.3 for his career. It’s a good look for the fifth-year senior who has never been much rebounder. He’s developing an instinct and a nose for the ball. You half expected Gant’s rebounds would go up without N’Diaye, but it was telling that he collected eight boards in 15 minutes alongside the 7-foot center. The next phase of Gant’s development is making himself available for Wroten’s passes. The freshman connected with Gant for at least three passes. Gant traveled on what would have been a layup, dunked on another possession and fumbled the pass before drawing a foul on the other.
— Speaking of Wroten, another two steps forward, one step back kind of night for the freshman guard. He entertained the crowd with a no-look pass to N’Diaye. He flushed a soaring one-hand jam and dropped a nifty behind-the-back pass to Kemp for a dunk. But he also committed a season-high tying six turnovers, which nearly offsets his 12 points, five assists and two steals. Aside from the turnovers, Wroten will need to improve his perimeter shooting. He has an explosive first step and opponents are starting to defend his dribble drive while giving him open shots from outside. Tonight he was 0 for 3 on three-pointers.
— In some ways, Simmons is a bigger version of Wroten. He brings energy into the game and he stuffs a stat sheet. Simmons finished with a career-best 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting. He also had eight rebounds – five on the offensive glass, three steals and two assists. Simmons went to the line five times and made three. And he played 23 minutes.
— N’Diaye had a quiet 11 points and seven rebounds in the sense that it didn’t feel as if the Huskies needed his production. He was able to ease into the game and impose his will on the smaller Matadors who had no one to stop him. N’Diaye towered over the Cal State players and often times didn’t need to jump or exhort too much energy for rebounds. He blocked two shots and made half of his six free throws. It was good to see him catch a difficult no-look pass from Wroten and finish with a two-hand dunk that rattled it.
— Wilcox fell into the jump shooter role and we’ll have to wait and see if that was a one-game thing or is it going to be permanent. He worked hard to expand his game and was displayed flashes early this season of becoming a complete player who shoots, passes, drives, handles the ball and plays defense. Tonight Wilcox took six shots and all of them were three-pointers. He floated around the arc and waited until Gaddy or Wroten delivered him the ball.
— Breunig played three minutes in the first half and nine total. He committed four turnovers in the second half, which mired an otherwise solid outing. Breunig finished with four points, three rebounds and two blocks.
— Kemp played all eight minutes in the second half. His dunk on the pass from Wroten was one of Kemp’s highlights from a short career. Even in short time, Kemp proved he can be productive inside. He had three blocks.
— Freshman guard Hikeem Stewart launched an airball on his first attempt and drew a loud applause from fans when his next shot banked in from mid-range. He played 10 minutes and scored two points.
— Brendan Sherrer and Alex Wegner made their first appearances since the Nov. 25 game against Houston Baptist.
Photo credit: Seattle Times – Ellen Banner