Washington relied on a suffocating 2-3 zone defense and clutch shooting in the final minutes to overcome a nine-point deficit midway in the second half and defeat Long Beach State 80-70 on Friday in the semifinals of the DirecTV Wooden Legacy at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Gym.
The Huskies, which improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2009, meet UTEP (4-0) in the title game 7 p.m. Sunday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. UW is gunning for its first out-of-state holiday tournament since 2004.
Here’s five quick impressions from Friday’s game.
Triple-double energy is real – Sometimes it’s easy to forget about sophomore point guard Nigel Williams-Goss even on a night when he nearly posts a triple double because Robert Upshaw set a tournament blocks record and Andrew Andrews came through in the end with clutch shooting. But the Huskies don’t win this game without Williams-Goss who played all but two minutes. He carried them early while scoring 15 of his game-high 21 points in the first half. He provided three big three-pointers. He delivered a season-high 12 assists, including helpers on each of UW’s final four baskets in the last five minutes. He’s had at least six assists in every game this season. Williams-Goss also snagged seven rebounds. It seems almost a done deal he’ll record Washington’s first triple double this season. The referees didn’t help Williams-Goss when they gave him a foul for throwing an elbow although replays showed LBSU’s Mike Caffey flopped on the play.
In the zone – If you’re handing out game balls, save one for coach Lorenzo Romar. The Huskies trailed 54-45 with 13:52 remaining and was on the verge of being ran out of the gym when Romar switched defensively to a 2-3 zone. It’s the first time this season Washington has used a zone for an extended minutes. The defensive change worked. Long Beach State never solved the zone and four minutes later UW tied the score 57-57. The zone was particularly effective with Upshaw (7-0), Jernard Jarreau (6-10), Donaven Dorsey (6-7), Mike Anderson (6-4) and Williams-Goss (6-3). The 49ers shot 41.8 percent (23 of 55) for the game, but they were 22.2 percent (4 of 18) against UW’s zone. Leading 65-62 with 5:04 left, Long Beach State had just one field goal the rest of the way and was outscored 18-5.
Better late than never – When it seemed as if Andrew Andrews was mired in a second straight shooting slump, the senior guard raised up and drilled two three-pointers in the final three minutes to seal the victory. Andrews had made just 1 of 8 shots when he drained a three-pointer in front of the UW bench that gave the Huskies a 69-64 lead with 2:46 left. On the ensuing possession, he drew an offensive foul on Tyler Lamb for a LBSU turnover. A minute later, Andrews buried another three-pointer from the same spot that gave UW a 72-65 lead with 1:22 left. Andrews finished with 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Mike Anderson is invaluable – Anderson scored 13 of his season-high 16 points in the second half, when Washington needed someone to step up offensively. After the break he made 4 of 5 from the field, including two three-pointers. Anderson finished with five fouls and he spent a lot of minutes trying to defend Caffey, who finished with a team-high 18 points on 6-for-14 shooting. Anderson and Williams-Goss are the two constants for Washington who show up every game and give a passionate performance regardless of the opponent, venue, their individual numbers or the game’s circumstance.
Bye, bye high-post offense – I could be wrong, but I didn’t recognize many high-post plays Friday. The Huskies took a lot of quick shots – especially in the second half – which was partly responsible for their nine-point deficit. When they forced turnovers or missed shots, Washington also tried to score quickly in transition. And from what I could gather, the Huskies relied primarily on high screens for their halfcourt offense. Upshaw did a nice job setting screens because he has a big body. He’s also effective when he rolls to the basket and Williams-Goss connected with him for an alley-oop slam dunk early in the second half. Freshman Donaven Dorsey is also effective setting the screen in pick n’ pop situations because he’s a big guy (6-7) who can knock down outside shots. A staple of UW’s halfcourt offense also included Williams-Goss darting into the lane for floaters or passing outside to open shooters on the perimeter.