The post-Robert Upshaw era was kicked off in Seattle on Thursday and well, let's just say that it didn't go well. The Huskies got throttled by Stanford on Wednesday, losing 84-74 at home. There weren't too many positives to take from this one, but I am going to try my best to give the Huskies some credit for what they did well tonight, and then dig in to what exactly went wrong.
The positives mainly come from the first half, where the Huskies, who looked energized out of the gate despite an admittedly sloppy start, and a sloppy end to the half, the Huskies did a good job rotating on defense. Most impressively they limited the Cardinal's second chance opportunities, limiting them to just one offensive rebound. Now, that stat does need to come with a significantly-sized disclaimer, as Stanford shot 56% from the field, so there simply were not very many chances for the Cardinal to track down their own misses. With that being said, the Huskies did a very good job rotating and rebounding as a team on the shots the Cardinal did miss, which is not a small feat for a team that is not desperately undersized as the Dawgs.
Nigel WIlliams-Goss's first-half performance was one of the lone bright spots for the Huskies offense in the first half, as they sputtered to put up 24 points on 35% from the field in the first frame. Goss was 4-6 from the field in the first half and also added a free throw to pitch in nine, and did a good job attacking the rim. The Huskies looked to post up Goss twice, once on the right block which caused the Cardinal to send center Stefan Nastic immediately to double, which showed Johnny Dawkins respected Goss's ability to score and facilitate down low. The Huskies posted Goss a second time, this time at the free throw line, which resulted in him missing a tough floater. The Huskies got no points out of these post ups, but I think that this needs to become more of staple for the Huskies offense going forward.
After getting dominated by Nastic in the first half (more on this in a second) Shawn Kemp Jr. responded by playing with more energy and some emphatic dunks and nice tip ins. He finished the game with twelve points. He also challenged Nastic a bit more on the defensive end in the second half, contesting his looks a little bit more, and also forced him back to his left hand, which does not seem to be his strength.
Mike Anderson, Queyvn WInters, and Darin Johnson all ended with nice stat lines, scoring 16, 13, and 10 respectively. The majority of the points for this trio came when the Huskies found themselves down by twenty and the game seemingly out of reach, However, these three, and the Huskies team as a whole, do deserve some credit that they kept playing hard and did not quit despite the large deficit. Winters saw his first meaningful minutes since before the Colorado-Utah road trip, and registered his career-high as a Husky. Regardless of the score, it was nice to see him put the ball in the hoop, as he looked to shoot with more confidence tonight than he has all season. The Huskies desperately need production from their bench going forward, so hopefully they are both able to build off of their performances tonight.
Okay, that was more positive than I expected to write. It is time to delve into what went wrong tonight.
What sticks out in my mind from the first half was Nastic's complete and utter domination of the Husky front line. He went 6-7 from the field in the first half, converted on an array of hook shots and also added a turnaround jump shot. Nastic is a very skilled big man, and if you allow him to get good position in the paint there is a good chance he is going to convert. And convert he did, Kemp allowed him to get position wherever he wanted, and also allowed him to move from block to block without any sort of resistance. I assume that part of that defense was the fact that Kemp and the coaching staff were concerned about him getting into foul trouble, which probably contributed to Nastic's easy looks. Still, the fact that Nastic was simply allowed to jog down the court and post up anywhere he wanted to, and get to his dominant hand (by my count, Nastic failed to even attempt a shot with his left hand) with virtually no resistance should be unacceptable. The Huskies will not win very many games this year if they stick with that defensive approach inside.
If the first half belonged to Nastic, the second half most definitely belonged to senior guard/forward Anthony Brown. Brown lit it up from behind the arc in the second half, knocking down three threes and also getting fouled on another shot from deep. He also knocked down 12 of his 15 free throw attempts, and despite going only 4-9 from the field ended the game with 23 points.
Honestly, I am still trying to process the beginning of the second half. Up twelve out of the break, the Cardinal ran out to a 26 point lead in a little less than six minutes. Stanford was able to get anything they wanted during this stretch, knocking down three threes and also converting multiple lay ups while capitalizing from the free-throw line. The Huskies looked incapable to stop the onslaught, and judging from their body language they looked a bit shell-shocked. As I said before, they do deserve some credit for not giving in and playing hard for the rest of the game. I think it is reasonable to have some serious concerns going into this game after the dismissal, but I don't think many Husky fans expected such a brutal stretch of play. I don't have much else to say about this stretch except I hope we don't see another like it for a long time.
The Huskies once again failed to shoot the ball well from behind the arc, as they only knocked down four of their sixteen attempts. Because of the absence of Upshaw, the Huskies started stretch four freshman forward Donaven Dorsey, who failed to record a point or knock down a three, going 0-1. (He also had two ugly turnovers at the end of the first half). The Huskies played small ball for the entire night, and even trotted out some five guard lineups for an extended period of time late in the game. It is concerning to say the least that a team that is putting a minimum of four perimeter orientated players on the floor at all times struggles to shoot the ball from deep.
"Quick turnaround. It would have been great if we could have had 2-3 practices." (Quote via Percy Allen).
That was Lorenzo Romar's response to being asked about what life without Upshaw was like, and frankly it showed tonight. The Huskies seemed uncertain on offense for the majority of the first half and especially the start of the second half, and the defense was obviously affected. Losing any starter in the middle of the year will affect just about any basketball team in the country, not to mention a seven-foot world class athlete and elite shot blocker. The Huskies had established their identity as a stout defensive team that would make up for their offensive shortcomings and sub-par shooting by protecting the rim. The majority of that identity was because of Upsahw, and as hard as it is to accept, Upshaw is not walking through that door. The Huskies are now in a scramble to re-establish their identity and try to salvage their chance at an NCAA bid.
According to Percy Allen, Andrew Andrews said that it was important Washington cut the deficit from 26 to 10, and that they may have found something going forward.
Here is to hoping that Andrews is right.