For much of Monday night this game looked like a carbon copy of Friday against North Florida. The Huskies got out to a decent start, went ice cold midway through the 1st half, eventually found their rhythm, and accelerated down the stretch. A scorching 60% 3-pt shooting night and an efficient 26 points from burgeoning true freshman star Keyon Menifield Jr. propelled the Huskies to a 78-67 over Utah Tech (formerly Dixie State). The win moves Washington to 3-0 on the season while Tech falls to 1-2.
Utah Tech's center Tanner Christensen started the game in dominant fashion. He drew two early fouls against starting UW center Braxton Meah, making 3/4 at the line. He also swished a 3-pointer despite being 1/5 career from deep coming into the game. He had UTU's first 8 points. PJ Fuller countered with 5 early points despite two quick turnovers as well. Franck Kepnang dribbled out of a double team and dunked it to give UW their first lead at 9-8.
The foul troubles continued unabated. Koren Johnson came in and was called for two perimeter touch fouls within a span of 4 seconds and sat back down. Franck Kepnang picked up his 2nd on an over the back (although Utah Tech airballed the resultant front end of a 1-and-1). Meah came back in and picked up his 3rd foul 8 seconds later meaning Utah Tech was in the double bonus for the final 12 minutes of the first half.
Still, Washington held a lead by virtue of some uncharacteristic 3-point shooting. Jamal Bey passed up an open shot to find Cole Bajema in the corner who hit his second outside shot of the game.
Langston Wilson was forced to come in at center due to the extensive inside foul trouble. Christensen easily pivoted around him for a layup to cut it to a 17-16 UW lead prompting a Hopkins timeout. On the next defensive possession though Christensen did the same thing to give Utah Tech the lead. The run continued as Tech found an open corner 3 and then got it down low to Christensen for another basket and another Hopkins timeout. The 9-0 Trailblazers run out them up 23-17 with 8:08 in the half.
Menifield finally ended what became an 11-0 run after getting a short floater to drop. Before he did though Tyler Linhardt came into a game for the first time this season as it seems he will no longer redshirt with UW's depth issues. Washington was forced into playing a 3 true freshman lineup while trailing by as many as 9. Utah Tech came into the game as a poor 3-point shooting team but made 5 of their first 8 from deep to not only hold UW at bay but extend their lead.
The freshman guards started to bail out a moribund offense in the final few minutes of the half. Both Koren Johnson and Keyon Menifield hit a 3 and a floater in a 2-minute span. Washington's defense couldn't quite get enough stops for it to be enough to retake the lead. But it allowed UW to enter the half down 36-34 and on a 15-8 run. Menifield led Washington in scoring at the break with 11 while Tech's Christensen has 16 points.
As could be expected the foul situation evened out in UW's favor. The Huskies had a 3-0 advantage at the media timeout with 13:41 remaining. However they trailed by one despite Menifield remaining hot with 7 quick points. Cole Bajema missed an open corner 3 that could've put UW up 5 and Utah Tech answered with a quick 3 to suddenly put the Dawgs behind 47-46.
Once again Christensen completely took over the game. He scored 6 points in 90 seconds and Hop took a disgusted timeout with UW trailing by 6. With no tricks left to try the Huskies for the first time this year went to a twin towers lineup playing Meah and Kepnang together. It looked good at first as Meah caught an alley-oop and Bajema hit a transition 3 to cut within one. Kepnang couldn't quite help in time and blocked a Christensen shot after it hit the backboard to end the mini-run.
Despite the lack of spacing the Huskies continues their hot streak from deep. PJ Fuller was open behind the arc after a scramble for the ball and knocked it down. Then Jamal Bey found enough space to can a 3. Finally Washington got out and ran off a miss and Menifield found Meah streaking downcourt for a transition dunk that put UW up 61-58. Washington finally had a foul called on them with 7:44 left in the 2nd half sending things to a media timeout. It ended up being the longest timeout of our lives as a broken shot clock on the floor delayed things for at least 25 minutes forcing both teams to go through warm ups again.
Coming out of the big break Washington's offense kept up its momentum. Keyon Menifield hit a step back 3 to put the Dawgs up 6. After a Utah Tech bucket late in the shot clock, Meah answered with a lob dunk and-1 and made his first free throw attempt as a Husky. Christensen missed a pair of free throws following Kepnang’s 4th foul but Meah did it again with another and-1 lob dunk (this time with a missed free throw). Washington's 69-60 lead was cut into after Utah Tech completed an old fashioned 3-pt play of their own. American. PJ Fuller kept it from getting even closer after a Meah miss with a transition block that resulted in getting UW back the ball up by 6.
Menifield took on the role of closer with aplomb for a few minutes as he hit a buzzer beating 3-pointer and on the next possession knocked in a pair of free throws. That was enough to seal it for Washington as Utah Tech went nearly 3 minutes of clock without a basket before a score in the final 30 seconds as the Huskies won 78-67.
Who knows where Washington would be (that was figurative, they’d be in the cellar) without true freshman Keyon Menifield Jr.? Despite seemingly tweaking his leg in the final minute he finished with a game-high tying 26 points on 4/6 3-pt shooting. Cole Bajema stepped up for the Dawgs with 16 points on 3/5 shooting from deep plus made all 3 free throws when fouled on another deep attempt.
Washington shot 60% from 3-point range overall which was only the 3rd time they’ve done that in the Mike Hopkins era. The offense looked much smoother in the second half as the Huskies had 11 assists against 4 turnovers compared to 3 assists and 7 turnovers in the first period. The problems of rebounding in the zone finally got to Washington in this one as they lost the battle of the boards 38-25 but still managed to win due to their scorching 63/70/69% FG/3pt/FT shooting splits in the 2nd half.
The Dawgs return to the court on Thursday night hosting Cal Baptist at 8p on Pac-12 Washington. We’ll see if they’re able to get Keion Brooks Jr. back from injury and hopefully will have everyone who played tonight healthy as well as they can’t afford any more missing players while the competition starts to ramp up.