This week was supposed to be Washington’s chance to get right against softer opponents than the likes of Baylor and Tennessee. Instead, the Husky offense continued to scuffle while the defense shut down Montana long enough to emerge victorious. With Isaiah Stewart limited by foul trouble, Naz Carter emerged as the Dawgs’ go-to offensive option. His hot stretch in the middle of the second half helped the Huskies put enough space between them and the Grizzlies to close it out 73-56.
Washington has started games slowly and struggled in the first half frequently this year. Quade Green hit Jaden McDaniels on a pin-down on the first possession and Isaiah Stewart followed it with a spinning lefty layup out of the gate to undermine those narratives. Montana settled in gradually and Josh Vazquez hit a corner three to bring them within 9-7 at the under 16 timeout.
Stewart’s elbow caught a defender in the temple on a post move, which was called a technical foul and sent him to the bench early. Jamal Bey entered and quickly made a slashing lefty layup to get the lead back. Sam Timmins, in for Stewart, worked his way into a put-back and caused a travel with good defense at the other end. On the next possession, McDaniels got his second foul, both on the offensive end, to leave UW without either of their blue chip freshmen for long stretches of the first half.
Even short-handed, Montana’s offense struggled with Washington’s defensive length. The Vazquez three remained the team’s only made field goal until nearly halfway through the first half. The Dawg offense didn’t get much more traction, and Montana was able to cut it to 17-13 with their second made three. Stewart re-entered the game and quickly picked up his third foul while fighting for a rebound after Hameir Wright missed a free throw. Timmins continued his strong play in Stewart’s place with a layup off of a nice post seal and a swat into the stands on a jumper in the corner.
The Husky offense continued to spin its wheels, but a handful of free throws stretched the lead into double-figures. With 6:30 remaining in the first half, Montana’s Derrick Carter-Hollinger made his team’s first two-point shot. After the make, the lid came off for the Grizz, and they scored five more quick points to cut it to 26-20 and force Mike Hopkins to call a timeout. Timmins missed on an up-and-under out of the timeout and Montana made another three to pull within a possession. Naz Carter finally came alive on the following possession to end the Montana run.
That Carter basket did not stop the bleeding. Montana made another three, McDaniels missed a three at the other end, and Carter got a loose ball foul on the rebound. After the teams traded some free throws, a Sayeed Pridgett runner tied the game at 29. Bey ended a long possession with a layup at the first-half buzzer to regain the lead 31-29 going into the break.
The performance in the first 20 minutes was ragged. The UW outside shooting was non-existent (0-6) and they turned the ball over 12 times. They made 13-18 free throws to salvage a few points. Early in the game, Carter, McDaniels, and Green attempted more dribble penetration, but too many of these attempts ended in offensive fouls or turnovers. The lack of any real shot-making was even more of a problem with Stewart- the lone half-court bright spot- on the bench with foul trouble. Eddy Egun and Montana’s 5-9 outside shooting was uncharacteristic, but UW’s defense was a minor problem by comparison.
The second-half did not start any better. UW missed a series of jumpers and Stewart picked up his fourth foul on what looked like a hook by a Montana rebounder. Montana went ahead 32-31 on a three by Pridgett, but Green put the Huskies back on top with a quick layup. Montana was not immune from foul trouble, either, with both guard Timmy Falls and Carter-Hollinger picking up their fourth fouls early in the second half.
Both teams continued to muddle through with glimpses of offensive competence- Pridgett made a pair of nice fadeaway jumpers. Carter completed a three-point play and McDaniels made a contested layup and shoved the ball in Pridgett’s chest after the make. The Huskies might have got off light with a double technical, especially because the foul on Pridgett was his fourth.
As the game wore on, Carter emerged as the Huskies’ #1 offensive option. The Dawgs even ran a series of ball-screens for him (a relative rarity in this season’s offense) to create off-the-dribble mismatches and he finished nicely at the rim. Meanwhile, the Husky defense turned up the intensity, especially during a stretch with their giant lineup of Carter-Bey-McDaniels-Wright-Timmins. When Stewart finally reentered the game with just over eight minutes to play, the Dawgs had stretched their lead out to 52-43. Stewart went to the line on his first touch and the foul on Pridgett set him to the bench with five fouls.
When it looked like UW was about to put the game on ice, Carter received his fourth foul on a dicey loose-ball call and Vazquez made another three to bring Montana back within seven. Carter-Hollinger fouled out on the ensuing possession, which reduced Montana’s active roster to six players.
With the lead at 65-49 and just over two minutes to play, Carter picked up his fifth foul. His absence would have meant more earlier, but the game was well in hand when he finally fouled out. With Stewart back in the game, the Huskies had another go-to option. Stewart piled up enough points in garbage time that he finished the game as the Dawgs’ leading scorer. Montana kept up the fight until the end, but the Huskies pulled away to finish with a 73-56 win.
-Aside from a few bright spots, tonight was another rough game for McDaniels. His 4-9 shooting is an acceptable number, but he failed to make a three, turned it over five times, and made highly questionable decisions with the ball. McDaniels has the physical ability to do just about anything on a basketball court, but he has not executed well so far as a Husky.
-UW’s offensive execution was very poor overall. They finished with 21 turnovers and zero made three pointers (for the first time in 20 years). It often looks like the plan in the half-court is to get the ball to Stewart in the post at any cost, but without him in the game, there was very little shot creation, as evidenced by the total of seven assists on the night. Green has the speed and the handle to beat defenders off the dribble. Carter can work his way to the rim. Even Bey has the ability to attack a close out. The Huskies need to do more of those things when they stagnate offensively.
-For all the offensive struggles, UW’s defense played very well. They forced 20 turnovers, including 8 steals, and also blocked 5 shots. In addition to the blocks, Montana passed up several opportunities to go to the basket. Montana shot 32% on the night, and it would have been even worse without uncharacteristically hot three-point shooting.