Finally. Take a deep breath. Do you feel the relief? That’s the feeling of the Washington Huskies actually winning a Pac-10 road game against an opponent that they’re superior to.
The Dawgs downed the Sun Devils 79-62 Thursday evening to keep pace with UCLA and Arizona in the Pac-10 championship race.
Forget the fact that Arizona State is in last place in the Pac-10. This was a significant hurdle for the Washington Huskies, who after losing to Oregon for their third straight loss all of a sudden had their NCAA Tournament future in doubt.
This game was also in doubt during the first ten minutes. Lackluster rebounding and lapses in defensive focus led to easy Sun Devil buckets to begin the game. But talent won out, MBA got a grip on the paint and CJ Wilcox drained a couple three point shots and the Dawgs put it away for a big road victory.
It may not seem like a huge victory in the big scope of things, but road conference games against any opponent look good on your tournament resume, and the Huskies also needed to avoid having a glaring ‘Bad loss’ for the committee to look at.
Beating Arizona State rounds out a three game winning streak for the Huskies, and was their first road game win since beating California on January 16th.
With Arizona beating Washington State the Cats still remain a game and a half up on the Huskies with the important showdown in Tuscon on Saturday(3PM PT ESPN).
It wasn’t just an ordinary win, however, the Huskies dominated this game after taking the lead halfway through the first half and never looked back. This is not only the Huskies’ third straight victory, it’s their third straight blowout victory. This is the type of basketball we’ve expected Washington to play against inferior opponents. Imposing their will on the defensive end, most specifically, which fuels the rest of what Romar wants to do with his team.
Now, let’s take a look beyond the box score with things I observed during the game.
CJ Wilcox’s coming out party:
The redshirt freshman has potentially cemented himself in the playing rotation with his third straight double digit performance, and hit the big three point buckets in the first half that helped Washington seize control of the game. I was also impressed with CJ’s ability to put the ball on the floor, including a pretty baseline drive bucket which are the kind of buckets Washington really needs to break the zones that teams are throwing at them. CJ’s 16 points are a Pac-10 play high for him, and his highest point total since dropping 20 on Long Beach State on November 30th.
The zone is still difficult for the Huskies:
While Washington may be a team that thrives on the three point bucket, it’s the dribble penetration that sets all of that up. Venoy Overton and Isaiah Thomas are drive first guards that shred apart defenses when they saw man to man defense. But it started at Washington State when the Huskies only saw exclusively 2-3 zone defenses which meant that it became difficult for Isaiah to get behind and draw defenses into him. It also became easier for teams to close out on Washington’s shooters. Isaiah only averaged 13 points a game during the Pacific Northwest swing, and more importantly, only six assists a game. Isaiah had a nine assist a game average prior to the road trip. Isaiah struggled again in Tempe on Thursday night, only scoring 11 points and dishing six dimes. Though, only going 2 of 8 from beyond the arc may say something about the lackluster scoring, it should still be noted that Isaiah struggled all night to get past the first line of defense of the Arizona State zone. Other shooters and Mathew Bryan Amaning having a good game against the inferior Arizona State bigs compensated for that. The Huskies are still trying to figure out the zone, especially on the road, and it’s not going to get any easier in Tuscon.
Where is Aziz N’Diaye?
I had to review the box score to realize that Aziz was on the court for 21 minutes. It was 21 minutes of lackluster production. I realize that the big man provides the Dawgs with some much needed defense in the paint, as two blocks would illustrate, but when the big guy has more fouls(4) than rebounds(3) this late in the Pac-10 schedule it makes me a little worried that this guy is going to be a key cog as we enter the March madness stretch. We don’t need him to score, if MBA can play the way he is capable of we should get plenty of big man scoring, but the Huskies thrive on rebounding on both ends of the floor and creating fast breaks. The Huskies lost enough rebounding when Pondexter graduated, Aziz has to offset that and 3 boards in 21 minutes simply does not cut it.
Overall, though, this is a compelling and much needed win for the Huskies. While there are always areas to improve this is an all around confidence builder for the Huskies and a few players in particular for the team. At worst, the Huskies will be 4-5 on the road in Pac-10 play, thanks to this win.