C.J. Wilcox said the Huskies can learn a few things about themselves after close wins like Tuesday’s 83-79 nail-biter over Montana.
Washington certainly made things interesting in the first half and in the final minutes when they appeared out of sync defensively against at home against the Big Sky powerhouse who was nearly unstoppable early on.
The Huskies trailed by eight (29-21) in the first half. They got their first lead nearly 27 minutes into the game. They led by nine points and were up by eight (80-72) with 1:29 left before the offense stalled and the defense nearly buckled.
But in the end, Washington made the plays that mattered to improve to 3-2.
The Huskies were helped by a pair of missed UM free throws in the final 12 seconds, which might have made things very interesting. But Washington was also able to rely on its strong free-throw shooting and rebounding to pull out the win.
The Huskies made 24 of 31 at the line. They also dominated the glass 34-14, allowing Montana just one offensive rebound. Washington had 11 offensive rebounds and outscored UM 13-2 on second-chance points.
However, the game was noteworthy because coach Lorenzo Romar said afterwards the Huskies have tweaked their trademark, ball-hawking defense due to the NCAA new rules, which prohibit hand checking and allows offensive players greater freedom on the perimeter.
Washington will no longer extend its defense and try to deny passes and go for steals. Without a bonafide shot-blocker inside, the Huskies are intent on packing in their defense to restrict driving lanes to the basket.
Romar installed the offense Sunday after the team’s 0-2 showing last week in New York. The Huskies had two days to work out the kinks, which were still very evident in the first half Tuesday.
“For me I’ve been doing one way for five years,” said Wilcox, a fifth-year senior. “It’s more packed in and I find myself going out further than I was supposed to. We’re just trying to contain the drive. We’re giving up way too many open layups and we’re trying to pack it in more.”
Said Romar: “We are trying to protect the paint more. Because of the rules, I just found that maybe we play a little tentative outside. Maybe now we are more in the driving lanes instead of the passing lanes.”
More Huskies inside equaled more rebounds. However, Washington had difficulty finding UM shooters on the perimeter. The Grizzlies made 9 of 15 three-pointers in the first half and 11 of 23 in the game.
That was an impressive, impressive display of shooting early on,” Romar said. “We had some scout errors, some miscues and broken-down coverages and that kind of got them in a rhythm.
“In the second half we did a much better job of defending their shooters. … We did a better job of defending the three.”
Still, Washington has plenty of work to do and you have to wonder if the Huskies can continue with a seven-man rotation in which every starter plays at least 32 minutes.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity,” Wilcox said. “I think we’ve handled it well. Obviously it would be a different story if we had some of our guys, but we’ve been sticking together knowing we have to play harder and do more than we normally would.
“This year, we’ve been learning on the fly since the season started. We just have to keep learning and hopefully get it down by Pac-12.”
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— Wilcox has demonstrated an ability to read and understand how teams are defending him before turning it on offensively in the second half. In last week’s 89-78 defeat to Boston College, he had 11 points in the first half and 19 in the second to finish with a career high 30.
On Tuesday, Wilcox started slowly once again. He had six points on 2-for-5 shooting at the break. In the second half, he scored 22 points while converting 5 of 8 field goals. He was 9 of 10 on free throws in the game. Wilcox also had three assists, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 37 minutes.
“Definitely, me being a fifth-year senior, having the experience, having been there before, I take it upon myself to take control,” Wilcox said.
— In an open game, Nigel Williams-Goss has shown he can get to the rim with effective ease. Of course, Montana didn’t have dominant rim protector inside, but Williams-Goss was still impressive scoring 20 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field and a 7-for-8 performance at the line. he also had six assists and three rebounds in 37 minutes. It also appeared as if Williams-Goss was still favoring a thigh contusion suffered last Friday during the Boston College game.
— Tuesday’s 13-point, nine-rebound effort is what the Huskies are starting to expect from Perris Blackwell. He nearly outrebounded the Grizzlies by himself. Blackwell also did a nice job blocking two shots. But he was best at avoiding fouls and playing 32 minutes. When Blackwell goes to the bench, Washington is a different team.
— You wonder how much better Mike Anderson will be once he’s played a dozen or so games with the Huskies at his new spot. He still looks like he’s operating on hustle and instinct and isn’t quite fully comfortable in a new role that forces the 6-6 guard to defend opposing forwards. Anderson made a few noticeable defensive gaffes Tuesday. Still, he’s going to have an impact on the game if given minutes. He finished with five points, eight rebounds – three offensive – four assists and a steal in 30 minutes.
— Playing alongside Wilcox, Andrew Andrews is going to get good looks at three-point attempts. He had five Tuesday and made two. Those were his only field goal attempts. He also had four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 32 minutes. Andrews did about as well as anyone could do against UM’s Kareem Jamar, who had 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting. Romar said Jamar is good enough to “play for anyone in the country.”
— Darin Johnson did his best work inside in the second half when he drew fouls. He made 4 of 6 FTs. he had six points and two rebounds in 15 minutes.
— Romar said he doesn’t have to monitor Shawn Kemp Jr.’s minutes or treat him different than any other player. However, Kemp is different. He’s receiving medical treatment to battle Graves disease, an autoimmune condition which affects the thyroid. Only Kemp knows how he’s feeling and Washington didn’t make him available after the game so no one could ask him. Still, his energy level seemed high early on when he flushed a two-hand dunk. He seemed to fade the longer he was on the floor. Kemp had five points and two rebounds in 17 minutes.