Skeptics might say that Washington’s hot start to the Pac-12 season had a lot to do with how their early schedule broke down. After decisive back-to-back wins over talented LA teams, it should be clear to all observers that these Huskies are the class of the conference. The Huskies fought through a sluggish start to shoot 11-24 from long distance and beat the Bruins 69-55. Noah Dickerson left with a sprained ankle, which required Sam Timmins to play his best game of the year.
UCLA came out quickly and punched the huskies in the mouth. Interim coach Murry Bartow clearly watched plenty of film on UW and exploited the team’s weaknesses from the opening jump. UCLA pressed UW to target the lack of a true lead ball-handler and forced five turnovers in the opening four minutes. The Bruins attempted to strike quickly on offense, which made it difficult for UW to get set in their trademark zone. Three pointers by Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes, and Jaylen Hands put UCLA up 12-4, and it could have been worse but for some missed shots. A needed timeout from Mike Hopkins helped the Huskies settle down and tune up their defense while they searched for answers at the other end.
UW struggled to find an offensive identity in the opening minutes. UCLA’s elite defensive length made it difficult for Dickerson to establish himself in the post. Jaylen Nowell was not able to beat defenders off the dribble to force the defense into rotation. When the Huskies did get into the paint, UCLA’s size made it nearly impossible for anyone to finish at the rim. Matisse Thybulle hit from long range and David Crisp added a pair. Coupled with a tightening defense, the Huskies climbed back into the game to tie it at 14.
With the game knotted, Dickerson’s arm became tangled with Moses Brown’s in the post. Dickerson went to the ground holding his shoulder and immediately went back to the locker room for further examination. It only took about three minutes of game time for Dickerson to rejoin the bench, and the Huskies kept the score even while he was out.
As rough as the first four minutes were for UW, UCLA’s offensive struggles over the next 16 minutes made that opening stretch look beautiful. UCLA managed only 11 points over the remainder of the half and accumulated a mind-boggling 18 turnovers. Thybulle added to the seven steals from Wednesday’s game against USC with six more in the first half. Continued hot shooting by Crisp helped give the Huskies some positive offensive momentum. A Nowell three before the first-half buzzer gave UW a 31-23 halftime lead.
Early in the second half, Dickerson went down again. Although he quickly came back from the banged-up shoulder early, he badly twisted his ankle while trying to contest a Wilkes jumper. He could not put any weight on his right ankle and the training staff had to help him back to the locker room. Nonetheless, Nowell and Dominic Green both knocked down jumpers off of Thybulle passes to push the UW lead to 14.
The Huskies continued to refine their offensive approach as the game continued. Crisp and Nowell, in particular, learned from their early troubles against the UCLA trees on the inside and adapted. Both used pump fakes and hesitation moves to create space near the rim to either finish or draw fouls. Nowell made a pair of free throws after Moses Brown committed his third foul to send him to the line. Even with Dickerson on the sideline, his spirit lived on in sending the opponent’s most dangerous interior player to the bench with foul trouble.
A series of poor Husky possessions allowed UCLA to string together a 7-0 run that cut the lead to 46-39 and forced Hopkins to call a timeout. Even after the timeout, the Huskies failed to break the press and turned the ball over due to a 10-second violation. Thybulle reentered the game after a quick breather and helped steady the Huskies. After a long rebound, Nowell got in transition and finished through contact for a three-point play. Sam Timmins appeared to follow it up with a spin move layup, but it was negated by an offensive foul that Bill Walton deemed, “a crime against humanity and human decency.” Timmins seemingly agreed because he answered at the other end with a blatant flop that yielded another offensive foul call.
UW continued its improved offensive execution with Nowell running the show. At the other end, Wilkes worked hard to keep him team afloat. While he continued to tally points, it was not an efficient game. He struggled from outside and did not create easy baskets for others against the Husky zone. Nowell’s efficiency was a stark contrast. He scored 15 points on only 10 shots to go with eight rebounds and four assists. Timmins punctuated the game with a tip dunk followed by two made free throws when UCLA used the hack-a-Kiwi strategy.
After the disjointed first half, UW played intelligently and under control through the second half. They overcame the adversity of losing Dickerson and didn’t miss a beat due to Nowell’s composure and Timmins’s strong performance. With two challenging road games in Arizona forthcoming, Dickerson’s health will be a hot topic this week. In the meantime, the Huskies can feel good about holding serve at home against two of the most talented teams in the conference.
- The three point shot was UW’s salvation in the first half. They were only 2-4 from the line and 4-14 from inside the arc, but 7-14 from distance. Crisp continued his run of shooting form with four makes in five tries before the half. By the end of the game, the tally was 12 twos, 12 FTs, and 11 threes.
- UCLA’s bench did not score in the first half. Was it only due to playing time? No. They played enough to accumulate seven turnovers. Not a good ratio.
- Former Husky greats Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman were both in attendance. The Dawg Pack was jammed and noisy from the start. While the 1 PM start was earlier than normal, the school announced another sell-out. If there was any doubt about whether Seattle would support the Huskies if they got rolling, the two games against the LA schools this week should have put those fears to rest.
- Bill Walton called the game for ESPN with Dave Pasch. I know that Walton is a controversial subject, but I find him bizarrely hilarious. If you rely on him for insight on the game or accurate reporting of what is happening on the court, you’ll be disappointed. If you accept him as a separate form of entertainment running parallel to the game, he’s delightful.