"This, right here is where history meets the future. This really the next great leap forward in our world"
With that aggrandizing proclamation, Bill Walton opened up ESPN's broadcast of the first major American sports event to ever be hosted in China.
The house wasn't quite a third full with the entire upper level of the arena completely closed off. But it was a good time and a more-engaged-than-you-would-have-thought crowd. The locals who took in the strange sights of American College Basketball were treated to a match up of two teams that, in many ways mirrored each other. Both teams feature young athletes who wanted to play an up and down style of basketball.
It wasn't pretty, but the victory went to the more aggressive and energetic team as your Washington Huskies defeated the Texas Longhorns 77-71 in a game that Chinese locals might remember as much for the colorful commentary by Bill Walton as it might for the highlights on the floor.
For those keeping track, the Huskies starting lineup was:
G- Andrew Andrews
G- Dejounte Murray
F- Marquese Chriss
F- Noah Dickerson
F- Matisse Thybulle
The young Dawgs were at a significant age and size disadvantage to the big and upperclassmen heavy Longhorns. Early in the game with the Huskies showing off their athleticism with lobs, steals and streaks to the hoop. But the mismatch was apparent early on and the wild Dawgs demonstrated their youth with a wide array of impressive turnovers, fouls and flubbed plays (Marquese Chriss had four fouls with 9 minutes to play ... in the first half). In fact, the Huskies could not convert a single field goal or foul shot until nearly four minutes had passed in the first half.
Much of the first half was characterized by what any fan, much less a Chinese fan in attendance, would term "ugly basketball". Both teams struggled with ball control, defensive rotations and wild turnovers. The Huskies were the more active of the two teams and, even though they were clearly the more sloppy of the two, they were able to grab an early lead through pure hustle and effort. Andrew Andrews' shooting, David Crisp's cutting and Malik Dime's energy were the key factors in helping UW establish a lead that topped out at eight points in the first half.
Unfortunately for UW, the Huskies would surrender that lead as Texas exited the half tied with UW 34-34.
The good news is that UW's energy level continued into the second half. While the sloppiness persisted, the effort on both sides of the floor was impressive even if much of it was squandered. Still, the hyperactive Huskies, who were rumored to have spiked their water bottles with a mix of Red Bull and Chinese coca, build a lead that got up to nine points half way into the 2nd half. Again, it was Andrews, Dime and Crisp who spurred the streak, along with some impressive plays from Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray.
Texas, as you would expect, would make a run as they capitalized on UW's cold-shooting and the whistles that seemed to come after every UW defensive play. With four minutes to go, Texas had reclaimed a one point lead and had ridden three Huskies out of the game with fouls.
Then the magic happened. Noah Dickerson channeled his inner Jon Brockman, Malik Dime made a few more hustle plays and Andrew Andrews nailed a clutch 3. It finished close, but UW had enough to hold on to win.
Here are some Dots for you to chew on in.
- There isn't much to talk about with the overall sloppiness of the Huskies play. With the youth of the team, the big trip to China and a quality opponent in Texas, it isn't surprising that the Dawgs struggled to get into any kind of rhythm. What was most refreshing for me to see was the liberal player rotations that Lorenzo Romar was able to utilize. The first two guys off the bench were David Crisp and Malik Dime. Donavan Dorsey and Devenir Duruisseau - a 20 year old freshman who attended a military prep school before coming to UW - also were early subs into the game. Crisp, in particular, seemed to create a spark with both his defense and his aggressiveness with the dribble drive.
- If you watched the team at all a year ago, you know how the slow-footed Dawgs relied heavily on Robert Upshaw to provide rim defense and clean up defensive breakdowns. It was tough to watch but it was effective. Compared to that team, this one is a revelation. The Huskies weren't always clean, but they were active and quite literally flying all over the floor on defense. Once these guys get the rhythm down in how to avoid committing fouls - which was a major issue once again - you can see how their length and athleticism is going to be a factor against their future opponents.
- The big knock on the Huskies was expected to be their lack of toughness on the defensive frontline. However, the Dawgs acquitted themselves better than you would have expected tonight. Noah Dickerson was grinding hard against much bigger competition in a way that will never show in the box score, Malik Dime was like barely contained lightning, and Devenir Duruisseau gave a lot of hard minutes, especially on the offensive glass, in relief of Chriss. UW might be underrated on their front line.
- Line of the night: "Can you buy a jumper on Alibaba?" -- Bill Walton in the 2nd half.
- For X and O junkies, it was probably interesting to see that the Huskies showed no ability whatsoever to run the high post offense. This is somewhat ironic given all of the hubaloo around the installation of that style with the hiring of Brad Jackson as an assistant a few seasons ago. While many Husky fans might be saying "thank God", this was a problem for the Huskies in a few different instances when Texas switched to 2-2-1 zone. I can already tell that we are going to burn a lot of time talking about how UW struggles to execute in the half court offense.
- It's hard to really assess "endurance" in the context of a game. The best way that I've found is to pay attention to how one team matches the effort of their opponent. Somewhere around the 15 minute to play mark in the 2nd half, Texas quit running the floor with UW in a way that was noticeable to my eye. If UW can keep putting that kind of physical pressure on their opponents, good things are going to continue to happen.
As a parting gift for UW, it was announced during the game that 5-star recruit Markelle Fultz and New Zealand star Sam Timmins had both officially signed their letters of intent to enroll at the UW and play basketball for Lorenzo Romar.
That's all I've got for tonight. Mount St. Mary's on Thursday and Penn on Saturday - both in Seattle - are the two next games on UW's schedule. See you then.