Most of us would consider a Christmas in paradise as a pretty good way to spend a holiday. The Huskies (10-3), playing away from Seattle for the first stretch of time all season, didn’t have the merriest of experiences, however, as they fell to Kelvin Sampson and his Houston Cougars in the championship of the Diamond Head Classic tournament 75-71 on Christmas day.
The Cougars (10-3) weathered a hot offensive start by the Dawgs to keep the game close in a first half that could have just as easily gotten away from them. That charge was triggered by some strong shooting from freshman Jaden McDaniels and (surprise) overpowering post offense from Isaiah Stewart. While UW was able to get the lead up to as many as 14 points in the first half, the Cougs kept battling. They were able to goad the Huskies into a near six minute scoring drought to end the first half which got the Huskies lead to just five points exiting the first half. A quick check of the gamethread revealed more angst about how Washington can look so good and so bad offensively in the first half.
That defense continued to serve Washington throughout the second half, even as UW’s offense continued to betray them. The Cougars, reflecting the experience and confidence of their coach Kelvin Sampson, just continued to grind away eventually reclaiming the lead (on two different occasions) with just over 6 minutes of game clock left. Strong guard play (Caleb Mills with 19 points), great offensive rebounding (16 on the game) and timely scoring by forward Fabian White Jr (19 points) were all key for Houston.
This loss concludes UW’s out of conference schedule for the 2019-2020 season. We will next see Washington at home opening conference play against UCLA on Thursday night.
- Where would this Husky team be without Isaiah Stewart (25 points, 8 rebs, 2 blocks)? Though we saw flashes of what UW coach Mike Hopkins ultimately envisions this offense being about, it is apparent that the only thing the Huskies can reliably count on is some kind of drop off to Stewart and then hoping that he either physically overpowers his opponent or gets to the line.
- Husky fans are undoubtedly concerned about the inconsistency coming from this young team. When Houston was making their run in the first half, it was really the self-inflicted wounds on offense that really held Washington back. Random offensive fouls, botched put backs, failed entry passes and missed three pointers that didn’t really need to be taken collectively seemed to take the rhythm out of the offense.
- Jaden MCDaniels demonstrated what a problem he can be for opposing defenses when he can get his perimeter game going. McDaniels was able to hit a couple of threes early in the first half which pulled Houston’s D out to him. That respect gave McDaniels more room to create with the dribble drive and with ball movement. It was frustrating to see those Houston adjustments get squandered by a lack of ball movement exploiting the open spaces that McDaniels hot start created. McDaniels finished with just 10 points and did not score at all in the second half.
- Washington got off to a hot start shooting threes tonight going 6 for their first 8. But what goes up must eventually come down. UW went on to miss 8 in a row before Quade Green ended the drought midway through the 2nd half. Hat tip to Naz Carter who seemed to be the only person who was able to find any kind of perimeter shooting rhythm in the second half.
- Fabian White Jr of Houston had a strong showing going for 19 hard-fought points on 7 of 13 shooting. I didn’t chart the shots, but it sure did feel to me like he did a good chunk of his damage on the left block where he ended up having some fantastic one-on-one matchups against Hameir Wright. There were some really compelling, competitive moments between those two.
- Speaking of which, I think we are going to have to talk about Hameir at some point. The confidence that Hop has in Hameir’s defense is unquestioned and explains why he is able to lead the team in minutes played in a game like this. But the UW junior has no confidence on the offensive side of the ball right now and it raises the question as to whether or not his offensive deficiencies are too great to justify his minutes. Wright finished the night with an inexplicable 1-7 from three point range.