SEATTLE — Gathered during a timeout in the second half of Sunday night’s game against Eastern Washington, the Washington Huskies were reminded of just how different college basketball games will be this season.
Whistles, fouls, free throws. Aggressive teams will be rewarded. And the Huskies, who in the second half employed a four-guard lineup, wanted a piece.
So they repeatedly dribbled toward the rim, intent on either scoring easily against the foul-troubled Eagles or earning enough trips to the free-throw line to overcome the inconvenient first-half deficit they had accumulated.
Eventually, the Huskies showed as the better team, beating their Big Sky foe, 92-80, at Hec Edmundson Pavilion and avoiding the embarrassment that would have accompanied back-to-back home losses to mid-majors after Thursday’s setback to UC Irvine.
They did it Sunday with, for the most part, a diminutive lineup. Guards Nigel Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews, C.J. Wilcox and Darin Johnson played alongside forward Perris Blackwell for much of the second half. Reserve guard Mike Anderson mixed in, too, before fouling out, and at times played with the other four guards.
The results were much more favorable in the second half, when UW outscored EWU 53-32 after trailing by nine at halftime.
“I just liked the way we competed in the second half, and it obviously made a difference,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “When we compete, it’s obvious we’re a much better team.”
Washington travels Tuesday to New York, where they’ll play Thursday against Indiana, then the next day against Connecticut or Boston College.
UW’s performance in those games needs to more closely mirror what it did in the second half Sunday against the Eagles (1-1) than what it did in the first.
EWU guard Tyler Harvey shook loose to score 20 of his game-high 28 points before halftime. Going with a smaller lineup might have helped UW (2-1) limit him to eight points in the second half. At times, the Huskies used five guards at once, and they knew they could switch every one of EWU’s ball-screens and wind up with a similar matchup on the ballhandler.
“We’re already at a disadvantage, so we can just switch everything, and I think that helps a lot,” said Williams-Goss, who led the Huskies with 22 points and five assists. “Even if we have four guards and one big in, we can still switch pretty much everything.”
That improved defensive effort led to more transition opportunities, which led to a 16-3 run that turned a seven-point deficit into a 79-73 lead with 6:09 to play.
The Huskies mostly made up that difference from the free-throw line, where they scored 20 of their first 36 points of the half and finished 31-of-34.
That wasn’t by accident. During a timeout, Romar reminded his team that new hand-checking rules will favor teams that take the ball at the defense.
“This is where it comes to our advantage,” Wilcox recalled Romar telling them. “Just attack them and get to the free-throw line.”
Between free throws, Williams-Goss snuck in floaters and evaded waiting defenders with crafty step-around moves that indicated the freshman might be one of UW’s most valuable offensive weapons.
Harvey made a layup to trim UW’s lead to 81-79 with 4:33 to go, but a bucket by Wilcox and consecutive baskets by Johnson provided the Huskies with necessary separation.
Romar enjoyed his team’s rededication to defense and seeking the rim in the second half, after they spent the first period hoisting early jumpers — they made one 3-pointer all game — and forgoing any semblance of structured offense.
“When we put forth the effort, we’ve done a decent job,” Romar said. “When we haven’t, we’ve looked putrid.
“It was good for us to come back in a situation. We’ve done this twice now, in the Seattle U. game and this game. I know Eastern is a little different team than Indiana, which is our next opponent. But it’s something hopefully we can build off of, that effort.”christian.caple@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports