Lorenzo Romar continues to brace for the storm. He knows there are opponents on this year’s schedule that will not allow his Washington Huskies men’s basketball team to score off turnovers, to pressure its way into easy offense, to dribble and pass and dunk unimpeded.
“We still have to prepare for that, for when that day comes,” Romar said. “And it’s going to come.”
It did not come on Saturday afternoon.
The Montana Grizzlies are capable of winning a lot of games this season, and possibly enough to win the Big Sky Conference and play in the NCAA tournament. A preseason media poll even predicted that scenario.
But against the Huskies, they were capable of little more than watching UW’s players do whatever they wanted in a 92-62 rout at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
This, again, was the Huskies at their most ideal — forcing a frantic offensive pace, and using deflections, steals and other turnovers to fuel an offense that again eclipsed the 50-point mark by halftime.
After Montana came within three points of winning earlier in the week at 20th-ranked Gonzaga, Romar had reason to expect that the Grizzlies might lure the Huskies into the basketball version of a bare-knuckle fistfight.
But they didn’t. The Huskies (7-2) scored the game’s first 13 points, forced five turnovers before the first TV timeout, scored 16 points off Montana’s first eight turnovers and gradually built an insurmountable lead in the first 20 minutes.
It was not unlike what the Huskies did during Tuesday’s 92-67 victory over TCU. In both games, the Huskies led by 20-plus at halftime, and pushed the margin to 40 in the second half.
Once again, they were too athletic, too quick, too skilled for their opponents to properly counter.
“I did not see that coming,” Romar said. “… We just watched them play Gonzaga, and we were prepared to play a tough game down to the wire. We felt that’s what it was going to be. But give our guys a lot of credit. We came out ready to play from the outset.”
That was especially true of freshman forward Marquese Chriss, who had fouled out of four of UW’s first eight games this season. But in a first half Saturday that featured 31 fouls, Chriss somehow had zero of them, the simplest reason why he was able to score 22 points and grab 11 rebounds in 25 minutes.
The first mark against him actually came during his most exciting play. Freshman guard Dejounte Murray picked one of his four steals early in the second half, and with only Chriss trailing him in the open floor, he tossed the ball off the glass to his teammate for an easy alley-oop dunk.
Chriss slammed the ball through the hoop, then used the rim to pull himself up, apparently too high for the officials’ liking. He was assessed a technical foul, though it was of little consequence — the dunk put the Huskies ahead 59-30.
Romar wasn’t pleased with the sequence — “I wouldn’t say that’s something we practice,” he said, referring to the off-the-board pass — but Chriss and Murray insisted it was worth it.
“I’ll take the consequence for that,” Chriss said of the technical foul. “We were just having fun.”
They had fun all game. Washington’s long-armed guards harassed the Grizzlies into silly turnovers — they committed 22 total — and allowed the Huskies to claim a 31-16 lead with eight minutes to play in the first half.
Montana (3-5) made only four field goals in the final 12 minutes of the half, and shot 32.3 percent from the field for the game.
The Huskies frustrated star Montana forward Martin Breunig, who spent the first two years of his career at UW before transferring. Breunig averages nearly 21 points and nine rebounds per game, but was called for three fouls in the first half, picked up his fourth foul just 14 seconds into the second half, and fouled out after scoring three points on 1-for-8 shooting in 15 minutes.
He had trouble against UW’s interior defense, particularly junior forward Malik Dime, who blocked five shots in 18 minutes. Chriss added two blocks himself.
Murray added 16 points, four rebounds and three assists. Freshman guard David Crisp scored 14 points, including a 3-pointer and an impressive, knifing layup in the final minute of the first half. UW’s leading scorer, Andrew Andrews, himself hampered by foul trouble, had 12 points.
The Huskies also took advantage at the free-throw line, making 28 of 41 (16 of 22 in the first half).
“This group loves to play basketball,” Romar said. “And they love to play basketball with each other. The game is fun to them and it’s fun to watch their teammates and watch each other be successful, and I think that has a lot to do with guys coming out with that fire and wanting to play.”
Player of the game: Marquese Chriss finally stayed out of foul trouble, and he was the most dynamic player on the court. The 6-foot-9 freshman forward led the Huskies with 22 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes. He added four assists, two blocks and a steal, made 5 of 10 from the field and 11 of 14 from the free-throw line. He committed only one turnover.
It was over when: The Huskies took a 52-30 lead into halftime and led by 29 points before Montana scored again. There was no turning point or defining play. UW simply dominated.
Stat of the game: UW forced 22 turnovers, and scored 29 points off them — including 16 points off of Montana’s first eight turnovers.
Quotable: “We focused on December being an important month for us to try to get as good as we can possibly get before league. I like our progression. I think we’re making good progress. But we still have a ways to go to get to a point where we can go in conference and compete at a high level.” — UW coach Lorenzo Romar
What it means: Again, this was a game the Huskies were expected to win — they were favored by 9.5 points and were playing at home. But again, it’s the way they won that is most intriguing. Montana is not a patsy. The Grizzlies were picked by media people to win the Big Sky this season, and they have enough talent to make that happen. So the fact that UW had them totally overwhelmed speaks to the potential the Huskies possess.
Up next: Oakland at Washington, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19 (Pac-12 Networks).