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Husky Men's Basketball

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December 14, 2014 at 10:12 PM

Five impressions: No. 17 Washington 81, Eastern Washington 77

Nigel Williams-Goss holds up his arms as the Huskies take the lead late in the second half at Alaska Airlines Arena. Washington won a hard-fought game, 81-77. (Photo credit: Lindsey Wasson - Seattle Times)

Nigel Williams-Goss holds up his arms as the Huskies take the lead late in the second half at Alaska Airlines Arena. Washington won a hard-fought game, 81-77. (Photo credit: Lindsey Wasson – Seattle Times)

A week after Washington slugged it out with San Diego State in a game that produced 85 points combined, the Huskies nearly equaled that tally themselves in a high-scoring affair with Eastern Washington.

You knew this game was going to be different than the Aztecs win. For starters, Eastern Washington brought an offense that was averaging 85 points – seventh best in the nation – into Alaska Airlines Arena. And the Eagles (8-2) are pretty good considering one of their wins was victory at Indiana.

But there were plenty of anxious moments for UW fans as the Huskies trailed for nearly 35 minutes. Still, as Nigel Williams-Goss said: “It’s a 40-minute game.” And Washington was really good – when it had to be – in the final minutes.

Here’s a few thoughts.

This team doesn’t quit – No matter how big the deficit – and it got to be pretty big – there was always the feeling that the Huskies had a run in them. You didn’t feel that way in past years when upstarts like UC Irvine, Albany and South Dakota State came into Hec Ed and shot the lights out. Back then, the Huskies would get flustered. They’d play good defense for a possession or two then lose concentration. They came unglued. But these Huskies have a little more grit and resolve. Robert Upshaw said: “We’re fighters.” They do fight. Three times they’ve trailed at halftime and they’ve won them all. And Sunday might have been their greatest comeback yet. Washington didn’t take the lead until the final 87 seconds. Twice the Huskies surged ahead for five-point leads, but they also had a tenuous two-point advantage (79-77) with 29 seconds remaining.

Upshaw is special – After a night in which Upshaw was easily the best player on the floor, not sure if coach Lorenzo Romar is ready to put the 6-11 center into the starting lineup. The big fella dominated the game for long stretches. EWU coach Jim Hayford said: “That’s six inches we can’t make up. We did throw our 7-footer in there for a couple minutes, but he’s too athletic. He’s not just 7-foot. He’s tall, he changes the game at the rim and I thought that had a difference on our field goal percentage in the second half.” Upshaw may have scored 30 points if he was better at the free throw line where he was 5 of 14. Still, he finished with a career-best 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting. He displayed a soft touch around the rim where he scored on several finger rolls. He also flushed a few emphatic dunks. Defensively, Upshaw finished with six blocks and five of his season-best nine rebounds were on the defensive end. Perhaps Upshaw’s most telling stat: 26 minutes, including 13 in both halves.

UW’s backcourt makes good look bad – Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews had one of those nights when you don’t think they’re playing well, but then you look up and they finish with a bunch of points, rebounds and assists. They do it all. They contribute in so many ways. Williams-Goss finished with 19 points on 7-for-18 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal in 34 minutes. Meanwhile Andrews had 18 points, including a 12-of-13 performance at the free throw line, a season-high tying seven rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes. That’s getting it done.

Where have you been Darin Johnson? – It’s been awhile since Johnson has made a meaningful contribution. He played well in a couple of games late last season, but has been mostly silent this season. So it was a little surprising to see the 6-5 guard in the game in the final minutes. Johnson often deferred and passed up open looks, which drew the ire of Romar in postgame remarks. But he rewarded Romar’s faith in him with a dagger three-pointer from the corner with 53 seconds left. Before the shot, he was 2 of 9 on threes this season. Williams-Goss said Johnson “isn’t lacking of confidence,” but it remains to be seen if Sunday’s performance will get him going. I’m guessing UW’s trio of backup shooters that includes Quevyn Winters and Donaven Dorsey will continue to share minutes in the spotlight. Winters and Dorsey each had bright moments this season. Sunday it was Johnson’s time to shine.

Kuodos to Romar – Didn’t think we’d see Washington’s 2-3 zone tonight against a spectacular perimeter shooting team like Eastern Washington. But late in the second half, Romar switched to the zone for a few possessions despite the protests from players. It was a nice little move because at the stage in the game, Eagles were a little gassed and didn’t have the legs to hoist accurate three-pointers. The Huskies also had Upshaw and Shawn Kemp Jr. in the game and wanted to keep them out of foul trouble. Furthermore, UW was having problems keeping the Eagles out of the paint. The momentary switch gave EWU something else to think about and the Eagles committed two turnovers.

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