Before the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team and its ultra-young roster played a game this season, coach Lorenzo Romar volunteered an intriguing piece of information about one of UW’s key freshmen.
Marquese Chriss, a 6-foot-9 forward from Sacramento, had scored 40 points against his teammates in a timed, officiated intrasquad scrimmage.
A scrimmage, of course, is just a scrimmage. But Thursday night’s game against Mount St. Mary’s wasn’t a scrimmage. Chriss and the Huskies just made it look that way.
He dunked three times, swished a few midrange jumpers, made a three-pointer, scored 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. And he made it look about as easy as the final score might indicate, the Huskies running away with a 100-67 victory over an overmatched nonconference opponent before an announced crowd of 5,381 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
It was the home debut for Chriss and seven of his teammates. They defeated Texas, 77-71, in their season opener last week in Shanghai. Romar said Wednesday that the team looked sluggish during Tuesday’s practice, and players acknowledged they were still trying to shake off the jet lag triggered by the long flight home.
So Romar was particularly pleased when the Huskies raced to a 17-0 lead against the Mountaineers in the game’s first five minutes. Chriss scored six of those points. Matisse Thybulle hit a pair of three-pointers. The Huskies ran the floor, contested shots, snagged rebounds and ran the floor again.
They led 51-28 at halftime after closing the half on a 14-3 run – punctuated by a fast-break, tomahawk slam by senior guard Andrew Andrews, who finished with 20 points — and never led by fewer than 18 points in the second half.
“I didn’t really set any expectations for myself,” Chriss said, “but I started making a couple shots. I was feeling it a little bit, and I just kept shooting.”
He finished 11 of 19 from the field and 6 of 8 from the free-throw line. He blocked two shots and had a steal in 29 minutes, and six of his 10 rebounds were offensive, a byproduct of Chriss’ pogo-like leaping ability. The only criticism of his game on this night would be that he committed five turnovers. But his other numbers point toward the kind of potential that Romar and Chriss’ UW teammates have seen in practice since October.
“He was really active, very aggressive, and just so athletic,” Romar said. “He just gets up to places it’s hard for others to get to.”
During one particularly impressive series midway through the second half, Chriss made his only three-pointer of the game, then scored while being fouled on UW’s next possession and made the free throw.
“I don’t really have a preference,” Chriss said. “If I get the ball, I’m going to try to do something positive. The only thing I don’t want to do is turn the ball over. So there’s not really something like, ‘I want to do this every time,’ or ‘I have to do this.’ ”
Romar said Chriss simply “goes out and plays.” The coach noted that Chriss scored 14 points against Texas despite playing only 18 minutes due to foul trouble.
“You wonder if he had played 29 minutes in that game, what would he have done?” Romar said. “He hit a three-pointer tonight. He gets offensive rebounds. He’s pretty quick for his size, and the way we play, he’s all over the floor. It makes him a little more difficult to defend him.”
There were sloppy moments — UW finished with 19 turnovers — and the Huskies shot just 27 of 40 from the free-throw line, a lower percentage than they would like. But they also made 50.7 percent of their field-goal attempts, outrebounded the Mountaineers, 60-29, and held their opponents to 31.2 percent shooting from the field — including 9 of 37 on three-point attempts.
Andrews and freshman guards David Crisp (13 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Dejounte Murray (11 points, nine rebounds) joined Chriss in double figures.
Mountaineers guard Junior Robinson led his team with 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
“I was really excited about the way we started out the game,” Romar said. “We were really, really dialed in. With a young team like this, it’s something that you are concerned about. … I wondered how we were going to react. But I thought we reacted fine.”
Chriss in particular.