A new role for Jaylen Nowell? Can streaky shooter Dominic Green find a little more consistency? And which freshmen are ready to contribute right now?
Washington led by 17 points in the first half and 27 in the second before claiming a comfortable 83-59 win over Eastern Washington on Tuesday in front of 6,054 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The Huskies improved to 5-2 and has one more tune-up – Sunday’s home game against UC Santa Barbara – before next week’s big showdown at No. 1 Gonzaga.
Here are three observations from last night.
Jaylen Nowell’s new role?
During his postgame interview, it sounded like coach Mike Hopkins is more comfortable with Jaylen Nowell running the offense than David Crisp.
Of course, this came on a night when Nowell tallied a personal-best seven assists and finished with half of UW’s 14 assists.
And even though Nowell continues to struggle with turnovers – he had four – the Huskies tallied a season high in points, assists and three-pointers (12) with the sophomore guard directing the offense.
The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard is a proven scorer who led Washington in scoring last year and has a team-high 18.1 points per game average this season.
Tuesday was the first game this season in which Nowell didn’t score at least 14 points, but he nearly made history and flirted with UW’s first triple double. Nowell checked out for good with 4:15 left and finished with eight points and a career-high tying nine rebounds.
Crisp might be better suited as shooting guard, but at 6-foot he’s forced to handle the ball. He’s had at least five assists in two games this season, but he’s also had four games when he’s had just two helpers.
On Tuesday, Crisp was at his best spotting up while making 5 of 7 shots, including three 3-pointers for a season-high 14 points.
Nowell has been working as the backup point guard since training camp and when he’s on the floor with Crisp their roles are interchangeable.
It’s not surprising they’re tied for the team lead with 20 assists. It also wouldn’t be a shock if Nowell assumes more of the playmaking responsibilities.
Dominic Green has always been the X-factor
I’m guessing Dominic Green will try and get spaghetti and meatballs on the menu for Sunday’s pregame meal.
The Huskies sharp-shooting ace attributed his career night (25 points and 7 3-pointers) in part to his favorite dish.
“I ate good tonight,” he said. “I just felt loose. I felt like it was popping and came out and performed.”
The Huskies don’t necessarily need 25 points from the backup guard every time out, but they have to get much more than the scoreless performance he had in the previous outing. When Green goes 0 for 4 like he did last week in a 68-66 loss to Minnesota, it puts too much stress on an offense that doesn’t have many reliable perimeter shooters.
But when Green is on, he makes Washington a dangerous team that can score inside and out. He creates driving lanes for dribble penetration and makes it untenable for his defender to double team all-Pac-12 forward Noah Dickerson in the post.
“He just opens everything up,” Hopkins said of Green. “He spaces the floor and gives us balance. So now we’re playing 4 on 4.”
It was obvious, Eastern Washington coach Shantay Legans prioritized protecting the paint with five defenders,w which left Green free to shoot mildly contested three-pointers in the corner. And he made the Eagles pay while connecting on 7 of 10 3-point attempts.
“They seemed to suck in a lot on the drives like when David would penetrate or Jaylen or (Matisse Thybulle),” Green said. “And that would really open it up. And they would turn their heads. If you see your man turn their head, you got to re-locate. I was just getting wide open shots and they were all from the same spot so it was kind of weird.”
During his UW career, the Huskies are 17-7 when Green makes two or more three-pointers in a game. In the past two seasons under Hopkins, Washington is 8-1 when Green hits at least 2 long-range daggers.
“Just him being on the floor with that (three-point shooting) ability is a great thing,” Hopkins said.
Not yet ready for primetime, but getting there
The 24-point blowout allowed Hopkins to empty the bench for the first time this season and get an extended look at freshmen Jamal Bey and Bryan Penn-Johnson.
Bey had appeared in four games, but hadn’t played more than six minutes.
On Tuesday, he had a couple of nice rotations in the lineup while playing 16 minutes.
Hopkins noted Bey’s defensive presence and the 6-6 guard finished with four rebounds. Bey was 0 for 2 from the field, but he did a nice job of getting to the line where he sank 5 of 8 free throws for the first points of his collegiate career.
Even though it was a solid outing, it’s unlikely Bey receives meaningful minutes in a crowded backcourt that includes Crisp, Nowell, Green, Thybulle, and Nahziah Carter.
Meanwhile, Hopkins might find a spot for Penn-Johnson in the lineup if Tuesday is an indicator.
The 7-foot center brings size and a 7-foot-7 wingspan to the middle of UW’s 2-3 zone.
Defensively, he can help the Huskies immediately. Against Eastern, Penn-Johnson had three blocks and two rebounds in 7:30 minutes.
But Penn-Johnson is raw on the offensive end and he’s incompatible alongside Dickerson because both are low-post players who operate around the rim.
Sam Timmins returned to the starting lineup Tuesday and finished with four rebounds, three blocks and three turnovers in 11:31 minutes.
If the junior forward is unable to stay on the floor due to his propensity to pick up fouls, then Penn-Johnson might be an option as the No. 3 big man in a front line that includes Dickerson and forward Hameir Wright.