The Huskies overcome another slow start and terrible 3-point shooting with a furious finish for their seventh straight home win. Can this problematic formula continue to prevail when Pac-12 play starts this week?
Once again, the Huskies rallied late to overcome a double-digit deficit and defeat a mid-major opponent. Their 84-76 win over Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday night was more of the same from a 9-4 team that’s been living dangerously the past two months.
Here are three early impressions from the nonconference finale:
Where’s Hameir Wright?
A sprained ankle sidelined the 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who had his best game of the season in UW’s last outing when he had seven rebounds, six points and five blocks. Without Wright, coach Mike Hopkins elected to go with a four-guard lineup that included senior guard Dominic Green making his second start this season. Green finished with 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting, including 2 of 6 on 3-pointers and four rebounds in 31 minutes. But without Wright, the Huskies lost the rebound battle 39-36. The Titans also outscored UW in second-chance points (13-10). Wright’s absence put a lot of stress on the rotation (Hopkins relied on just seven players) and a thin front line of Noah Dickerson and Sam Timmins. Dickerson had his most productive game in about a month. He overcame a poor shooting performance in the first half (2 for 7) and finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and zero turnovers in 30 minutes. It was his first double-double in eight games and just his second this season. Hopkins said Wright should be available Saturday for the Pac-12 opener against Washington State.
Perimeter shooting is still an issue
It’s hard to tell if the Huskies get good looks at three-point attempts because of superior execution on the offensive end or if opponents simply don’t think they’ll knock down open shots. Approaching the start of conference play, it’s inconceivable to believe Washington – or any team – can dramatically re-invent itself midway in the season when games are more frequent and practice time decreases. But then, this same group shot a respectable 34.6 percent on three-pointers last year. For whatever reason, the Huskies have devolved into an awful perimeter-shooting team. Right now, Washington is last in the Pac-12 in 3-point shooting at 30.5 percent. That’s 302nd nationally among 351 teams. The last time UW shot fewer than 31 percent on 3-pointers was that 10-20 team 2000-01 that shot 30.6 percent behind the arc. The poor 3-point shooting nearly doomed the Huskies on Tuesday. They made just 2 of 14 in the first half, which largely contributed to a 42-34 deficit at the break. It got so bad that Dickerson attempted (and missed) his first 3-pointer of the season. In the second half, UW was 4 of 7 behind the arc.
What’s with the slow starts?
Hopkins joked that he wished he could use a ‘Jedi mind trick’ and convince his team that it’s down by 20 points at the start of games. Maybe then, the Huskies wouldn’t continue a disturbing trend of slow starts and fast finishes. Washington has trailed at halftime in eight games and has come from behind to win five of them. It’s one thing to fall behind Auburn, Gonzaga and Virginia Tech, but UW has been outpaced – at home – by Western Kentucky, San Diego, Sacramento State and Cal State Fullerton in the first half. That’s not a winning formula when the competition is expected to increase once Pac-12 play starts. On a positive note, the Huskies have shown resolve and grit in the second halves of their last two games. UW held Sacramento State to 3-for-22 shooting (13.6 percent) in the second half during a 57-41 comeback win. And Tuesday night the Huskies erased a 13-point deficit thanks to a defense that allowed just 12 of 32 shots (37.5 percent) in the second half. Fullerton held the lead for 27:29 minutes compared to UW’s 6:24, but the Huskies outscored the Titans 50-34 after halftime for their seventh straight home win.