For the first time in 15 years the Huskies hosted a game against a ranked non-conference opponent that wasn’t Gonzaga. With snow on the ground and students on Winter break a monster crowd wasn’t expected but those in attendance thought it might be competitive. Instead the Huskies failed to score even one point per minute for most of the 1st half and Auburn lit up the Dawgs in the 2nd half in an 84-61 blowout. Washington falls to 9-4 on the year after the final game of non-conference play.
Washington has been plagued by slow offensive starts even against mid-majors so it was expected it would happen tonight against one of the better defenses in the country. PJ Fuller had his pocket picked on UW’s first possession and it resulted in a fast break basket for the Tigers to start off the scoring. The Dawgs finally tied it up (at 2) as Braxton Meah got good position inside and got fouled and made both free throws. Mike Hopkins wasn’t waiting to make changes as Cole Bajema was pulled less than 90 seconds in and Bey was yanked after a terrible long 2 attempt followed by a turnover.
With 14:24 left in the first half, Koren Johnson finally made the Dawgs’ first field goal of the game with a nice scoop shot layup just over the shot blockers’ hand to bring it to 7-4. Johnson almost did it again on the next trip down but it rimmed out and Meah was called for an iffy over the back which gave him his 2nd and glued him to the bench for the next 10 minutes of game clock. UW got a bit of a makeup call as Auburn was penalized for a flop which gave the Huskies a free point in a game where every point was hard to come by.
Just before the under 12 timeout something approximating offense started to appear. Johni Broome for Auburn had consecutive baskets after outrunning UW down the floor for a dunk and then hitting a midrange jumper. In between Keyon Menfield pushed the pace after a make and went coast-to-coast for a layup of his own.
After being a non-factor for the first 10 minutes, Keion Brooks Jr. finally showed up for the Huskies as he swished through a long 2 and then a step back 3 to bring UW within 1 at 13-12. That’s when things completely fell apart. Washington’s offense continued to be nothing but contested 3’s as every pass the Dawgs made looked to be their first. Meanwhile, Auburn started to regress to the mean getting clean looks on second chance 3’s and a 14-0 Tigers run vaulted them to a 27-12 lead at the under 4 timeout.
P.J Fuller finally ended the run by jumping the passing lane to intercept it on the perimeter and finish with an and-1 layup (although he missed the free throw). After another Auburn basket things started to break Washington’s way. Cole Bajema missed a 3-pointer but was fouled and made all 3 free throws. The next time down the court UW had to inbound it with 5 seconds on the shot clock after a deflection and Jamal Bey’s desperation 30-foot heave somehow banked in and good. Then Koren Johnson’s layup was both a foul and goaltending for another 3-point play. After 16 points in 18 minutes all of a sudden UW had a 9-0 run in 90 seconds.
The good vibes couldn’t quite last until halftime though as Koren Johnson gave it back on the defensive end fouling Auburn’s 3-point shot with 3 seconds left. The Tigers made 2⁄3 at the line and a Keion Brooks 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the rim sending it to halftime at 31-23 Auburn.
Washington finished off the half shooting just 21% from the field and 15% from 3-point range while no Dawg had more than 5 points.
UW’s second half magic certainly wasn’t in effect right off the bat. Keion Brooks threw away Washington’s first possession directly to an Auburn defender and the Tigers swished a late shot clock 3 to go back up double digits. The Huskies got some shots to go in but they certainly weren’t easy. PJ Fuller barely kept his foot from slipping on an abrupt stop for an up and under and Keion Brooks Jr. hit a contested fade away midrange jumper. UW finally found something that worked with the Johnson/Meah pick and roll letting Koren beat Broome off the dribble for a layup twice in a row.
With the lead cut to 39-33 Auburn got inside and drew foul #3 against Braxton Meah with 15:48 left and made both at the line. Then after a terrible Jamal Bey turnover the Tigers got a second chance look after a tip by Meah and it resulted in a swished corner 3. After another Jamal Bey miss Auburn pushed the pace and got Braxton Meah in the air for an open dunk and the 7-0 run in less than 90 seconds pushed Auburn’s lead back out to 13 points.
Things pretty much officially ended for the Huskies when Langston Wilson went for a thunderous 2-handed dunk. He held onto the rim and it jostled just enough that the ball bounced out and Auburn recovered the rebound and countered with a tough floater. That basket put the Tigers up 19 points with about 11 minutes left in the game and killed any semblance of potential momentum.
Cole Bajema finally made a 3-pointer but Auburn pushed off the make for a dunk and then pushed off a Bajema turnover for another dunk to erase the trey. P.J Fuller sank a pair of free throws but Auburn easily broke an attempted UW press and the resulting 2-on-1 gave the Tigers a wide open 3-point shot which they canned. Several minutes later the same thing happened after Menifield’s gamble for a steal didn’t pay off and it stretched Auburn’s lead out to 68-45 with just over 6 minutes left. The lead ended up reaching as high as 27 before the final horn sounded.
Washington’s offense picked up a little in the second half but they still finished with just 7 total assists against 14 turnovers on 21 made field goals. At least they had a multiple of 7’s thing going. Meanwhile, the defense collapsed after the break allowing Auburn to score 53 points on 70% from the field and 56% from 3-point range as the Tigers got the ball wherever they wanted. Keion Brooks Jr. led the Huskies with 15 points but on 16 shot attempts while Koren Johnson was the only Dawg with a somewhat efficient night scoring 12 points on 5/9 shooting.
This was the beginning of an absolutely brutal 5-game stretch for Washington that includes a homestand against the L.A schools and a road trip to Arizona. USC is the only one of those programs not ranked inside the top-35 at KenPom. The Huskies have to hope though that with an additional 9 days of rest we’ll see the return of PG Noah Williams to the lineup after he injured his leg on the final play of the half in the season opener. The rest of the team will hopefully use the holiday break to regroup mentally after a thoroughly disheartening result tonight.