As F1 Racing took over the Las Vegas Strip, the Washington Huskies and Xavier Musketeers looked to put on their own display of speed as both teams came in looking to run in transition. However, as both teams were running up and down the floor, both teams forgot one important thing early on…. making baskets.
The Huskies (3-1) would ultimately prevail by a score of 74 to 71, in a game that saw both teams shoot under 40%, 44 total fouls combined and 64 combined free throw attempts by both teams.
If you were looking for a free flowing game, this was not it. The Huskies grinded out the victory, thanks to getting to the free throw line and timely baskets in the 2nd half.
Both teams started the game cold in the first 5 minutes as the Huskies started 1/7 from the field and Xavier 3/10 before the first full TV Timeout. Washington was able to hit 3 free throws to take an early lead but struggled from the field out the gate.
Franck Kepnang got his first start in almost a year and brought some early energy on the boards and was able to knock down two free throws to give the Huskies and early 5-4 lead. However, Xavier would control the game the rest of the 1st half from there.
After giving up 31 points to Keenan Blackshear against Nevada, it was clear that Xavier was going to focus on scoring close to the basket against UW as well. Xavier repeatedly drove to the hoop for layups or were able to draw fouls against the Huskies early on.
On the other end, the Huskies could not buy a basket in the 1st half despite some pretty open looks. Moses Wood, brought in to bring in some sharp shooting, has struggled from long distance going into tonight’s game. Wood got a couple of early field goals but continued his struggles from beyond the arc. The career 40% shooter from 3 started the game 0-4 from three and with a few wide open looks early on.
Keion Brooks also could not buy a bucket in the first half, shooting 1-12 from the field. Credit Xavier for playing some tight defense but Brooks also missed a couple of easy looks near the hoop.
The Huskies shot a freezing cold 10-36 from the field in the first half and 1-12 from 3, yet somehow would only find themselves down 7 at halftime. The Huskies could thank 5’9 PG Sahvir Wheeler for keeping the Dawgs within striking distance with multiple drives to the hoop and was by far the Huskies most effective player early on. Wheeler would score on a couple of coast to coast drives after a missed shot and was able to beat Xavier down the court.
Wheeler would lead the Huskies with 12 points in the first half and Xavier would take a 37 to 30 lead into the locker room off of 44% shooting from the field.
The Huskies Became The Aggressor in the 2nd Half
The Huskies appeared to have a little more energy in the 2nd half and tried to take a page out of the Xavier playbook by attacking the hoop over and over. The Huskies would take their first 5 attempts near the rim without settling for a deep jumper. In doing so, Washington was able to draw 5 quick fouls on Xavier but could still not find an easy way to score outside of free throws.
Xavier would continue to drive to the hoop as well and forced 3 Washington fouls so the whistles started to come in heavy doses early in the 2nd half. However, it was the Huskies that would take advantage in the first 8 minutes and drew 9 Xavier fouls to help chip away at the Xavier lead.
It also helped that the Huskies were also able to create a few turnovers, which led to a Sahvir Wheeler leak out for a layup to tie the game at 50-50. Keion Brooks would draw a foul on the next possession to help the Huskies take the 1st lead of the game since it was 12-11 at 51-50 with 12:08 to play.
Unfortunately that lead would only last a few seconds as Quincy Olivari hit an open three after Paul Mulcahy slipped on the floor.
Washington would keep attacking the basket and it quickly became a foul fest for both teams but it would be the Huskies best source of points in the 2nd half.
Paul Mulcahy was relatively quiet in the 1st half but brought some toughness and energy in the 2nd half. Mulcahy created a spark by drawing several fouls and grabbed some tough rebounds to help UW get out on the break.
Fouls would become an issue for Xavier as Starting Center Abou Osmane and Desmond Claude both picked up their 4th foul. Claude was leading Xavier in scoring with 15 at the time and Ousmane quickly fouled out when he returned with 10 minutes left.
Moses Wood would finally hit a three to give the Huskies a 58 to 56 lead and Keion Brooks would add his own three-pointer a few minutes later to give the Huskies their biggest lead of the game at 61 to 56.
It looked like Washington was going to finally pull away but the Musketeers would not go away.
Franck Kepnang was a huge spark plug for the Huskies with rebounds, blocks and a couple of key baskets late in the game, including a nice pass from Koren Johnson for an emphatic Kepnang dunk.
Desmond Claude would return to the game but would pick up his 5th foul with under 4 minutes left, leaving with 19 points. The Huskies would have their own foul trouble when Paul Mulcahy fouled out with his 5th foul with 4:50 left as well, which gave Koren Johnson an opportunity to help close out the game.
Koren Johnson forced a couple of key Xavier turnovers in the final minutes and finished with 10 points off the bench. Koren did almost give the game back to Xavier when he stepped over the baseline while trying to inbound the ball after an Xavier basket for a turnover, which gave Xavier a chance to tie the game with 48.6 second left.
Fortunately for the Huskies, Xavier would turn it back over immediately for their 18th turnover and gave the ball right back to Washington.
Moses Wood would then hit the shot of the game with an 18-foot jumper fading away while the shot clock was expiring to give the Huskies a 73 to 69 lead with under 20 seconds left. Xavier would score immediately to get back within two and was forced to foul Keion Brooks with 5 seconds left. Brooks ends up splitting a pair of Free Throws to give UW a 74 to 71 lead but gave Xavier life and a chance to tie the game.
The Huskies would choose not foul with under 5 seconds, at least it seemed until Sahvir Wheeler got away with a potential foul while Quincy Olivari got off a 3-pointer to tie the game. Olivari’s shot missed wide left and the Huskies Survived with an ugly 74-71 lead.
Game Balls go to Sahvir Wheeler and Franck Kepnang. Wheeler kept Washington within striking distance in the first half and finished with 18 points, 5 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Kepnang finished with a career high 12 rebounds, 8 points, 2 blocks and 2 steals.
Leading Scorer Keion Brooks struggled mightily from the field with 5-17 shooting but finished with a game high 20 points, thanks to 9-12 shooting from the foul line. To Brooks credit, Brooks made two critical buckets under 4 minutes on aggressive drives to help UW sustain a tight lead.
Senior, Paul Mulcahy also had an impactful 2nd half and finished with 7 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and some tough defense.
Ironically, it would be the free throw line that helped win the game for the Huskies after a poor performance that cost the Huskies a victory versus Nevada. Despite a few misses at the end tonight, the Huskies finished 23-33 from the line, while Xavier shot 18-31.
The Huskies now turn their attention to a very good San Diego State squad on Sunday at 7 pm, after the Aztecs had an impressive win over Saint Mary’s 79 to 54 earlier tonight.
It wasn’t a pretty win and the Huskies will have to play 100X better to ensure they don’t get run out the building versus San Diego State but come away with an important victory.