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Huskies Defeat Weber State 69-52 in Season Opener

Injuries to a pair of key players though are the story of the game

NCAA Basketball: PAC-12 Conference Tournament-Utah vs Washington Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the Huskies dropped an early "gimme" against Northern Illinois to start the season. This team wasn't going to let it happen 2 years in a row as UW used a 15-1 run at the end of the 2nd half to pull away in a 69-52 win over Weber State. Kentucky transfer Keion Brooks Jr. had 20 points and 7 rebounds to lead the Dawgs in his Washington debut. However both Noah Williams and Cole Bajema left the game with leg injuries that will shape whether the 1-0 Huskies can keep it up in the future.

Washington was able to start off the scoring when Jamal Bey hit a corner 3 but it wasn't easy for the Husky offense. Multiple miscommunications led to three unforced throw aways into the stands in the first four minutes. Weber State took advantage and completed a 4-point play to take an 8-3 lead into the first media timeout. Starting UW center Braxton Meah picked up 2 quick fouls sending him to the bench.

Franck Kepnang came in and split a pair of free throws. He also got UW its first block of the game which finally got the Huskies out in transition for an easy PJ Fuller layup. Keion Brooks quickly after pump faked and dribbled into a midrange jumper to tie the game at 8.

Foul trouble continued to plague the Huskies as true freshman Keyon Menifield Jr. entered the game for the first time in his career and committed a pair of fouls in less than a minute. Soon after that PJ Fuller was called for his 2nd foul putting Weber State in the bonus fewer than 7 minutes into the game. Washington started out playing exclusively man defense in a switch everything scheme and were called for every bit of contact on the perimeter.

Hop had no choice but to let guys try to play despite the foul trouble. It didn't pay off when Menifield lunged at a midrange jump shooter and it resulted in an and-1 for his 3rd foul. After yet another Husky turnover Weber State came down and hit a transition 3 to go up 22-16 and prompt a Mike Hopkins timeout. The Wildcats came out in a zone and the Dawgs moved the ball well resulting in...a Keion Brooks airballed 3-pointer. Washington with their foul trouble finally went to the zone themselves. That helped preserve the fouls on defense but not on the other end. PJ Fuller was called for a push off and Kepnang was called for an illegal screen to each pick up their 3rd fouls as well on offense.

Still, Washington slowly closed the gap. Weber State finally missed a free throw after starting 10/10. Keion Brooks started to get inside and make it to the free throw line for Washington. Then after a Braxton Meah block, UW got to run and found Cole Bajema in the corner for a 3-pointer that put the Dawgs on top 24-23.

The whistle finally started to even out a little bit. Keion Brooks drew a hook and hold and made 1 of 2 technical foul shots. Then Jamal Bey drove, got fouled, and made both free throws for the 3-point possession. After more stops on defense UW got second chance baskets from Braxton Meah and Keion Brooks Jr. to keep the run going. Noah Williams missed a layup at the buzzer but UW went to the half up 31-23 and on a 15-1 run.

Brooks led the Dawgs at the half with 12 points while no one else for Washington had more than 5.

Normally halftime is only eventful for the youth basketball game happening. But in warmups Noah Williams made a 3-pointer but came up limping. He quickly went back to the locker room with 3 minutes before the 2nd half tip and Cole Bajema started the period in his place. Unfortunately UW ruled him out rather quickly and that is a major issue for a team that was built around Williams. He eventually returned to the bench with an ice pack taped to his knee.

In the 2nd half Weber State started to figure out the zone a little and a dunk followed by a 3-pointer got the game within 5 for the Wildcats. PJ Fuller showed some veteran leadership and steadied the ship getting to the basket and hitting an easy runner to end the mini-run and make it 39-32 Huskies.

Jamal Bey showed the opposite of veteran leadership by fouling a 3-poinr shooter on a half-hearted close out leading to 2/3 Weber State free throws. That was shortly after throwing the ball into the stands on a miscommunication with PJ Fuller.

PJ wished he could have one back by mis-locating an alley-oop pass to Keion Brooks that ended up a turnover instead of a dunk. The next time down though he had a nifty behind the back dribble to split a pair of defenders and took it coast to coast for a layup. Then Keion Brooks Jr. and Cole Bajema each nailed 3-pointers and suddenly the Huskies were back up double digits at 49-38 with 11:24 remaining.

The injury scares continued as Cole Bajema went down seemingly holding his knee. After a few seconds with the trainer he got up and walked back to the bench under his own power without heading back to the locker room. It looked more like a cramp than a serious injury and he came back in a few minutes later.

Each team traded baskets for several possessions so that it was 53-45 Huskies going into the under 8 media timeout. With Williams out, Keion Brooks Jr. continued to take on the load on offense driving into the lane aggressively and getting fouled. PJ Fuller stepped it up on defense blocking a 3-point shot on a close out. He missed a layup but on the next possession got it back drawing a charge. Fuller didn't miss his next layup attempt and after that got fouled driving to the hole. After making a pair of free throws it put UW up 60-47 with 3:48 left.

Braxton Meah had a putback dunk that fired up the crowd before injury woes struck once more. Bajema again fell down after a defensive stop but this time it looked more serious. Bajema had trouble putting pressure on his leg and limped off with the help of a trainer and teammate to the locker room.

After the stoppage, Keyon Menifield Jr. came in and hit his first career 3-pointer. But Weber State answered with a basket and then a steal and fastbreak layup to cut it to 65-52 with 1:51 left. Menifield kept it up shortly after dribbling out the shot clock then pulling off a nifty step back 3-pointer to help Washington to the final 69-52 margin.

Brooks finished with a game high 20 points plus 7 rebounds while PJ Fuller had 10 points and 4 assists. Center Franck Kepnang fouled out but was the defensive anchor with 3 blocks, 8 rebounds, and a steal.

Whether Washington is able to make a run this season will depend on the health of Williams and Bajema. The Dawgs only played a rotation 8 deep as Koren Johnson and Jackson Grant weren't dressed and Langston Wilson didn't make it into the game. Washington's depth gets perilously thin if both are out for an extended stretch.

The Huskies return to the court on Friday night to play North Florida at 8p on Pac-12 Washington.