If the Huskies are going to play the kind of defense they did in the second half, does it even matter what happens on the offensive end?
Washington put a choke hold on Sacramento State in the second half to overcome a halftime deficit and claim a 57-41 victory on Friday night at Alaska Airlines Arena.
It was an uneven performance from the Huskies (8-4) who wrap up the nonconference season on Jan. 1 against Cal State Fullerton.
Three impressions from last night’s game.
WHOA, THAT DEFENSE
If the Huskies are going to play the kind of defense they did in the second half, then it almost doesn’t matter what happens on the offensive end.
It was the fewest points Washington had allowed since a 49-36 win over San Diego State on Dec. 7, 2014.
It was also UW’s fewest points in a win since a 52-50 victory against Colorado on Jan. 22, 2015.
Sacramento State couldn’t solve Washington’s 2-3 zone defense, which held the Hornets to 3-of-22 shooting from the field and 1 of 9 on three-pointers after halftime.
The Huskies wisely sped up the tempo with defensive pressure and a trap in the backcourt that led to 21 turnovers. UW scored 24 points off those miscues.
“With the press and the crowd, we got into a little bit of rhythm and we got a little bit of separation,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “And that’s why we won the game.”
It was a little more complicated, but that generally sums up a second half in which Washington outscored Sacramento State 38-19.
The good defense nearly overshadowed a forgettable first half in which the Huskies went 0 for 11 on three-pointers and looked out of sync while scoring just 19 points on 8-for-24 shooting.
Maybe we’ll look back and say this was the game when Washington embraced its identity.
The Huskies aren’t equipped to win many shootouts. This team will need to make every game a defensive slugfest and hope to squeeze enough points out of an offense that ranks last in the Pac-12 in scoring at 70.1 points per game.
RESPECT THE GAME
Nahziah Carter confirmed the suspicions of many Huskies critics when he admitted UW players don’t treat every game the same.
“Sometimes when we play against mid-majors, we come out flat,” said the sophomore guard, who finished with 11 points off the bench. “But we got to understand that most teams are good. … We still got to come out with that fire like we’re down 15.”
This Jekyll and Hyde routine won’t cut it when Pac-12 play begins in two weeks.
The Huskies have trailed at halftime in seven of 12 games. It’s a testament to their resolve that they’ve been able to win four of those contests.
But it’s surprising that a veteran squad that returns five starters from a team that won 21 games last season isn’t a little more disciplined in its approach.
You would think that UW’s four seniors who have combined to play 436 games would provide enough leadership to be a little more consistent and not so cavalier in its approach. The Huskies can be a good team, but they’re not so talented that they can take anyone lightly.
And yet, UW fell behind by nine points (20-9) late in the first half against Sacramento State.
Even more disturbing was the manner in which the Huskies started the game. They were outworked on the glass and trailed 19-12 in rebounding in the first half. They were also losing physical battles against a smaller Hornets team, which is a trouble sign for a UW squad that wants to adopt a defensive mindset.
“We’ve shown great signs,” Hopkins said. “Great passing, great rebounding, great defense and then we’ve shown poor defense, poor energy (and) not making the extra pass.”
HELLO HAMEIR, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
Even though he worked his way into the starting lineup, it’s no secret the 6-foot-9 sophomore forward has struggled this season at both ends of the court.
He’s fouled out twice and played fewer than 20 minutes in seven games. And he entered Friday’s game shooting just 21.1 percent from the field (8 of 38) and 16.7 percent on three-pointers (3 of 18).
Friday’s game might have been another rough outing for Wright, who got pulled with 18:10 left in the first half after committing a miscue that led to a Sacramento State offensive rebound.
“Honestly I was nervous in the second half because against Virginia Tech you could see I took him out early and he lost some confidence,” Hopkins said noting Wright’s season-low seven minutes in UW’s 73-61 loss to No. 13 Virginia Tech last week. “You could see he lost a little bit of confidence (then) and I thought he really responded well.
“I thought he was the key to the game. It was his defense (inside). He was making them miss. He was blocking shots. He was strong with the ball. Still missed a couple of bunnies on the offensive end, but for the most part his energy and his defensive presence helped us in the second half.”
Wright was a non-factor in the past two contests, but he had his best game of the season on Friday.
He finished with career-high five blocks, a team-high seven rebounds and six points on 2-for-8 shooting.
Wright still hasn’t found the mark from long range and was 0 for 2 on 3-pointers, but he was 2 for 3 on free throws. It was his first time at the line in three games.
For the first time this season, Wright looked comfortable on the offensive end. He displayed signs of growth midway in the second half when he got the ball at the top of the key and decisively used a one-dribble drive to blow past a defender for a layup.
If Wright continues to play like this, then he may be UW’s linchpin or unsung hero who becomes increasingly valuable on nights when star forward Noah Dickerson collects four fouls and plays fewer than 16 minutes like he did Friday.