Their first victory achieved, this still is not quite what the Washington Huskies want their basketball games to look like. But it was closer.
Cal State Fullerton made a bunch of layups on Thursday night. Shot pretty well from the perimeter, too. And the Huskies at times seemed incapable of defending without fouling, a recurring problem from last season that does not appear to be going away any time soon.
But they will take this result, imperfect as it might have been, an exhausting 104-88 victory before a crowd of 6,284 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
“Progress was definitely made,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Our level of physicality went up, our defensive intensity went up, we didn’t allow them to get much in transition. … We still have a ways to go, but we did see progress, and we have to continue to make progress before we start conference (play).”
The victory was the Huskies’ first of the season, but this was not a particularly healthy response to their season-opening, 98-90 defeat against Yale four days prior.
There was, again, little wrong with UW’s offense; the Huskies shot 61.1 percent from the field and 45.0 percent from 3-point range (though they did commit 17 turnovers). But they allowed Fullerton to shoot at a 50.9 percent clip, and they allowed the Titans to erase an 11-point halftime deficit by driving for easy baskets inside against a UW frontcourt that stacked up too many fouls too early.
So the Huskies might shudder to think how this game might have ended if not for star freshman Markelle Fultz, who leapt no buildings in a single bound, but did score a game-high 35 points with six assists and seemed able to get to the rim whenever he pleased.
“It’s almost like he’s computer-generated or something,” Romar said.
Fultz made 10 of 14 from the field and 12 of 16 from the free-throw line, showing range with three 3-pointers and dazzling with a pair of reverse layups that will surely find a place on a highlight reel. He also ripped a pair of emphatic one-handed dunks in transition — the second following a steal of an inbounds pass at midcourt — to give UW a 13-point lead in the final four minutes.
“I think my ability to get to the rim is always open,” Fultz said. “I realized once I made a couple 3s, it opened the paint up even more. I was just looking to penetrate, not always to score, but (also) to find my teammates.”
Fultz, who scored 30 in his collegiate debut against Yale, led five UW players in double-figures. Sophomore guard Matisse Thybulle continues to show an improved jumper and finished with 15 points after scoring a career-best 20 in the season opener. Sophomore guard David Crisp added 17, senior forward Malik Dime scored 14 points and had eight rebounds, and sophomore guard Dominic Green scored 11 points.
Often as the Huskies (1-1) fouled, they found their own way to the free-throw line, too, making 29 of 38 in yet another game frequently interrupted by whistles. Fullerton tied the score at 68-68 with 11:57 to play, but the Huskies scored the game’s next 10 points — eight of them via free throw — and did not lead by fewer than seven points the rest of the game.
One undeniable positive for the Huskies: they rebounded. Yale conked them to the tune of 42-29 on the glass last weekend, scoring 19 second-chance points on 21 offensive boards.
Thursday was a little different. Fullerton managed only five rebounds in the first half and 19 total. The Huskies grabbed 20 before halftime and finished with 36.
“We were just putting a body on people and we were going after the ball,” Green said. “Against Yale, we weren’t going after it, we weren’t pursuing it. … We were just more physical. We were playing like some men.”
Fullerton remained close in the first half thanks to leading scorer Tre’ Coggins, who made five 3-pointers before halftime — all but one of them closely contested — and scored 20 of his 23 points in the first period.
The Titans (2-1) shot 54.5 percent in the first half, and attempted 19 free throws as the Huskies committed 14 fouls. Both teams eventually committed 27 fouls each. Fullerton made 25 of 35 from the foul line.
Twenty-seven fouls, Romar said, is “too much,” but he’s OK with it “if that’s going to be the result of us really getting after it.”