Maybe it was the desert air or being so close to Las Vegas, which has been his home the past four years. Or maybe Nigel Williams-Goss simply relished the chance to compete against Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, who is considered one of the best point guards in the nation.
There were more than a half dozen NBA scouts in Wells Fargo Arena Thursday night likely evaluating Carson, the sophomore, who said this will be his last year at ASU and plans to declare early for the draft.
However, at least one West Coast scout walked away thinking Williams-Goss was the best player on the floor during Washington’s 76-65 Pac-12 opening win.
“You start with his size (6-3) and then you start looking at the intangibles he brings,” the scout said. “This was a good game for him, but then he has a history of playing well in big games. So you knew that. I didn’t know he was as explosive as he was. And you always wonder how good young players are at shooting on the perimeter. But all in all like I said, it was a good game for him.”
Williams-Goss drew postgame praise from scouts, but Washington used a collective effort to corral the speedy Carson and upset the Sun Devils for an 11-point victory that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. The Huskies led by 24 points when coach Lorenzo Romar began emptying the bench and the reserves squandered most of the lead in the final five minutes.
Williams-Goss attacked Carson offensively while Andrew Andrews led the defensive charge that held the ASU star to 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting. Carson didn’t attempt a three-pointer. He had four turnovers and just one assist.
“We just talked about with Jahii, you can’t, … let’s put our pride aside,” Romar said. “It’s not one on one with him. You’re going to lose that battle. You have to guard him as a team and we just tried to for lack of a beter to put it, zone up after the ball. It was very important that we did that in transition because he’s so good.
“We talked about you have to pick him up early and all eyes have to be on him. It requires a lot of focus to guard those guys because he’s such a good player and they surround him with good shooters.”
They weren’t good tonight.
For most of the game, Williams-Goss defended Jermaine Marshall, who was 2 for 11 from the field and 0 of 3 on three-pointers. C.J. Wilcox helped Jonathan Gilling to four points on 1-for-4 shooting. And Shaquielle McKissic, the former Kentridge High standout, was 1 for 5 from downtown. Collectively, the Sun Devils were 2 of 14 behind the arc. They were 38.6 percent from the field, which is the lowest this season for a Washington opponent.
“I thought tonight was one of the first times all year that we came out and played like our identity was on the defensive end,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “And that’s something we’ve been trying to build and build and hadn’t quite got there. I thought on the road, we did a good job of that.”
Washington’s wasn’t hurt by its four-guard lineup. In fact, the Huskies outrebounded the Sun Devils 40 to 34. The smaller lineup also helped UW in transition from defense to offense.
Said Carson: “Basically, they just said whoever gets it, take it. It’s tough for us to get matched up in transition because a lot of us have mismatches. One time the five might be on a guard and he’s driving the ball and if we’re not in gaps then they’re attacking us. We didn’t do a good job of getting back in transition and that’s one of the things that fueled their scoring. When guys get easy buckets, they start feeling good about themselves and start hitting everything. We didn’t do a good job of making each other better and hitting our open shots, which fueled their transition game as well.”
A few days ago I wrote Romar should bench either Willams-Goss or Andrews in favor of 6-7 forward Desmond Simmons in an move that might improve the defense and rebounding.
However, Williams-Goss and Andrews help shape Washington’s offensive identity. They attack the rim from all angles. Williams-Goss is a surgeon with his running teardrop floater and Andrews is gutsy enough and strong enough to bull into the lane for layups or fouls.
Together, they punished Carson in the paint offensively.
“We tried to help him as much as we can, and they did a good job on a couple isolations,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “We eventually changed who he was guarding, but in the whole scope of things those couple baskets may have been a small factor but I think the things we are talking about (shot selection and transition defense) gave the game its context much more than that. But that’s obviously one of the challenges with size that you run into sometimes when you are defending a bigger guy.”
After the game, both coaches talked about their team’s identity. Sendek lamented ASU’s bad shot selections while Romar commended UW’s defensive effort.
“It’s taken awhile, but I’ve continued to say we’ve been making progress,” Romar said. “I thought tonight we’ve done as good as job against a quality team as we’ve done all year over a 40-minute period. We’ve done that in spurts over the last three weeks, but not for this long of a period.”
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— Williams-Goss, the former McDonald’s American, delivered the type of performance against a quality opponent that garners attention. In addition to his 12 points on 6-for-14 shooting, seven rebounds and three steals, he collected two steals and committed just one turnover in 32 minutes. Courtside observers also raved about his hustle plays, including diving to the floor and outwrestling Marshall for a loose ball.
— Wilcox struggled in his past two meetings against ASU particularly because Carrick Felix shut him down. Felix is in the NBA, but Wilcox had to work hard for his game-high 17 points against Shaquielle McKissic. Wilcox made 6 of 13 shots and was 4 of 10 on three-pointers.
— Andrews has 18, 19 and 14 points respectively in the past three games. He played a smart game defensively. He seemingly always knew where the help was going to come from while forcing the right-handed Carson to drive left. Offensively, Andrews was 5 of 10 from the field, 1 of 2 on three-pointers and 3 of 5 on free throws. He had three assists and three meaningless turnovers when the outcome was decided.
— In many ways, Perris Blackwell played Jordan Bachynski to a draw. The 7-2 ASU center had more points (13 to 10) and blocks (6 to 0), but Blackwell did a better job on the glass (7 to 5).
— Darin Johnson was instant offense off the bench. Ten points in 20 minutes on 4-for-7 shooting is pretty efficient. He also had five rebounds.
— It was the most minutes (20) and rebounds (seven) for Desmond Simmons since he returned to action four games following arthroscopic knee surgery. He also had four points.
— Simmons got extended time on the court partly because Mike Anderson suffered what appeared to be leg/foot injury in the first half. He continued playing, but logged just 22 minutes.
— Shawn Kemp Jr. powered in a dunk in the second half that provided a highlight. He received the bulk of his 14 minutes in the second half.
— Kuodos to Gilles Dierickx who sank a free throw with 1:34 left to record his first points as a Husky. He finished the game on the floor with Jahmel Taylor and walk-ons Quinn Sterling and Connor Smith.