There was a time not so long ago when Washington didn’t lose at home to a non-conference opponent. The Huskies would devour mid-major teams at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Between 2008-11, they tallied 32 straight non-conference wins at home.
In the past three seasons, the aura and invincibility has dissipated as UW routinely falls to non-BSC teams. First it was South Dakota State followed by Albany, Colorado State and Nevada.
Now add UC Irvine to the list.
The Anteaters entered Thursday’s game 0-2 and a 10-point underdog, but they dominated the Huskies in the second half and in the paint for a relatively easy 86-72 upset – is it an upset if it happens five times in 2 1/2 seasons? – in front of a stunned crowd of 5,875.
Perhaps the opening tip forecast the outcome. UCI’s 7-6 freshman center Mamadou Ndiaye hardly jumped while reaching up and winning the jump ball over 6-9 forward Shawn Kemp Jr.
The sequence repeated itself many times during the game. The Anteater guards lobbed passes over Kemp or 6-9 forward Perris Blackwell into Ndiaye who scored on an array of layups and dunks.
“We didn’t execute the game plan as we called it,” Blackwell said. “And it cost us.”
C.J. Wilcox pinned the defensive gaffes on the guards.
“We just didn’t do a good job of keeping the guards out of the paint,” he said. “That made it harder for (Blackwell) to help and then get back to that tree (N’Diaye). … Our heads weren’t really in it tonight. There were times when we were supposed to switch on the guards and we got confused. … Just really not executing as well as we should.
“The plan was to play behind the post, but we just kept letting them get to the paint and it’s hard to do that.”
UCI had 52 points in the paint while UW had 28.
The Huskies thought they’d solved their inability to keep guards out of the lane, but fans at Hec Ed could hear UC Irvine coaches scream “Attack, Attack” while urging the Anteaters to test UW’s soft middle. UCI finished with 20 assists including a combined 11 from its starting point guards.
A UCI player said: “It was like, just get inside and make things happen because they really don’t have anybody back there that’s going to block your shot.”
The Huskies had a shot blocker in 6-10 Jernard Jarreau, however, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. Without Jarreau, UW’s best shot blocker is Wilcox, a 6-5 guard who has three blocks this season.
Ndiaye finished with 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting, but he had a bigger impact on the defensive end where he had all eight of his rebounds and nine blocks. The long, lanky center with the 8-foot wingspan anchored a 2-3 zone defense that held Washington to 37.5 percent (24 of 64) shooting from the field.
Romar also lamented Jarreau’s absence while noting the he was especially good against zone defenses.Washington rotated several players at Jarreau’s old spot. Kemp started, but he wasn’t a factor. Wilcox, Darin Johnson and Mike Anderson each spent a few minutes at the high post. Washington also played without forward Desmond Simmons (knee) who is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.
“We were trying multiple people at that spot to see what sticks there,” Romar said. “Someone will emerge as we play. Someone else will step up and do that. But tonight we weren’t able to get it done. Again, I think Ndiaye had something to do with that.”
Perhaps the most distressing part of UW’s performance was the lack of effort and energy during a 8 1/2 minute stretch between the fist and second half.
The Anteaters finished the second half with a 9-0 run to take a 38-36 lead at halftime.
Nigel Williams-Goss tied the game at 38-38 early in the the second half when UCI used a 19-1 run over the next five minutes to take an 18-point lead (57-39) and take control of the game. The Huskies trailed by as many as 22 and never got closer than 13 the rest of the way.
Maybe it was Ndiaye yelling and flexing his muscles at the Huskies or UW players physically losing battles inside, which added to the overall somber tone inside the arena as fans left early.
When asked if there were any positives to take away from the game, Romar said: “Not really.”
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— Romar may not believe there were any bright spots for the Huskies, but they received a more than satisfying performance from Wilcox, who scored 24 points on 7-for-15 shooting. He was 4 for 8 on three-pointers and 6 for 9 on free throws. He also had four rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 34 minutes.
— Williams-Goss went 0 for 3 on three-pointers, but the freshman guard displayed a more than adequate mid-range game that included pull-up jumpers and a running floater. He had a career-high 13 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals in 31 minutes.
— Anderson came off the bench and collected a game-high tying eight rebounds in 24 minutes. He also had eight points before fouling out.
— Just a tough matchup for Blackwell who gave up nine inches to Ndiaye and struggled to contain the UCI big man. Blackwell used his speed once to beat Ndiaye down the floor for a fast break layup. Otherwise, he had a hard time getting a shot off. He finished with nine points on 4-for-11 shooting in his UW debut. He also had five rebounds and four fouls.
— The Huskies could have used another big scoring night from Andrew Andrews, who had 21 points in the opener. He was 3 of 7 from the field for nine points. With Wilcox on the floor, Andrews is going to get plenty of open three-point looks. He’s got to make them to keep defenses honest. Tonight he was 1 for 3 behind the arc.
— Ditto for Johnson, who was 1 for 4 for six points.
— Not sure why Kemp played just 17 minutes. He’s been battling an illness, which might explain the limited time on the court. Kemp had six rebounds.
— However, backup center Gilles Dierickx didn’t look comfortable on the floor. Granted, he had very few opportunities but he also was 0 for 2 with a turnover in seven minutes.
— Hikeem Stewart and freshman Jahmel Taylor played the final two minutes. Spoke to Romar this week and redshirting Taylor and he said the two sides hadn’t made a decision on the subject. Obviously, the decision has been made.