Between fits of giggles — the result of an apparent inside joke between the three Washington men’s basketball players selected to speak with reporters after Saturday’s game — sophomore guard Andrew Andrews said there was a goal in mind before the Huskies played Idaho State.
That objective: get some playing time for walk-ons Quinn Sterling and Connor Smith.
The Huskies achieved that feat, beating the Bengals, 85-66, before a crowd announced generously at 7,256 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Sterling checked in with 1 minute, 29 seconds remaining. Smith got on the floor with 22.1 seconds to go.
So in the end, this game was what the Huskies needed it to be – a lopsided-looking victory over an overmatched, mid-major opponent.
It just didn’t necessarily feel that way until the final minutes, when the Huskies used an 11-0 run to pull away and avoid yet another too-close-for-comfort finish against a weaker team.
The Bengals (3-4) came at UW with an unconventional zone defense, tweaking it here and there with a focus on senior guard C.J. Wilcox.
But it didn’t seem to bother the Huskies, who shot 55.2 percent from the field and made 10 of their 21 attempts from 3-point range.
They moved the ball well against the smaller, slower Bengals, finding 6-foot-9 forward Perris Blackwell inside (he led all scorers with 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting) while letting Wilcox chip away with jumpers from the outside (he scored 19 points, 14 in the first half, on 7-of-12 shooting).
“We knew the big man was going to be coming out to guard the wings,” Blackwell said. “So I was going to have a smaller guy in the middle.”
“We were hitting shots, we were able to penetrate and kick out as well as get it into Perris and Shawn (Kemp Jr.),” Wilcox said. “That definitely sparked us in the first half.”
UW coach Lorenzo Romar said the game plan accounted for the possibility that ISU’s zone would leave corners exposed, which it did.
“That allowed Perris and, early, Shawn Kemp had a couple buckets,” Romar said. “Our guys did a good job of rotating to the ball so we could get in position to go inside and get those balls in the corner.”
So they led 46-35 at halftime, and were up 70-58 with 9:55 remaining. Idaho State responded with a quick 7-0 run, trimming UW’s lead to 70-65.
But that was just about the end of the Bengals’ scoring efforts.
Andrews scored seven of UW’s 11 points during its decisive run, and the Huskies led 81-65 before emptying the bench and dribbling the clock out.
Idaho State shot 56 percent in the first half, but missed its final eight field-goal attempts and didn’t make a shot from the floor in the final 9:51.
“They practice too, so we give them a lot of credit for what they were able to do,” Romar said. “The first half they shot a high percentage, but in the second half I thought we settled down. They shot 37 percent. I thought we did a good job that way.”
Washington (5-4) departs Sunday morning for its next task, a Tuesday game at Tulane in New Orleans, which was scheduled so sophomore forward Jernard Jarreau could play a game in his hometown.
Jarreau is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. But he still will make the trip, and Romar said the Huskies will visit Jarreau’s house and “they’re going to provide some good ol’ Louisiana grub for us.”
Their reward for dispatching properly of the Bengals, perhaps.