Before Washington’s Wednesday night game against Colorado even began, the Huskies claimed a minor victory.
For the first time in recent memory, the student section actually was filled to capacity.
It reminded of old times, even if the rest of Hec Edmundson Pavilion hosted only a modest crowd of 6,325. And the Huskies noticed.
“It was cool seeing them get out there early, and then it got filled up before the game even started,” said UW freshman Marquese Chriss, who has never seen a student crowd that large in this building. “So I just think we kind of came out with more energy, because they were there, helping us.”
It’s a convenient storyline, at least. Whatever the reason for their performance — and a bunch of hyped kids screaming in their favor certainly couldn’t have hurt — the Huskies were simply better than Colorado during this 95-83 victory on Wednesday night.
“They whipped us,” Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle said. “They deserved to win this game. They outplayed us.”
The Huskies defended better, forcing 16 turnovers (12 in the first half) and blocking a school-record 15 shots. They shot the ball better, making 8 of 17 from 3-point range and 25 of 29 from the free-throw line.
And while the Huskies (13-5, 5-1 in Pac-12) watched a 22-point lead slip to nine late in the second half, they once again salted the thing in the final minutes — Andrew Andrews and his game-high 33 points had something to do with that — to remain in a tie atop the league standings.
UW won five conference games all of last season. But the Huskies continue to prove just how much they’ve changed in a year.
“All in all,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said, “I thought our guys stepped up to the challenge and met it and did a nice job.”
In the first half alone, Chriss flushed a two-handed jam off an alley-oop lob from Dejounte Murray, who later elevated for a two-handed jam off a lob from Andrew Andrews. And Malik Dime punched through a left-handed dunk off a lob from David Crisp.
Those highlights set the tone for the Huskies’ big run, an 18-5 stretch that pushed their lead to 33-22. They extended the margin to 47-33 by halftime, despite the fact that Andrews, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, played only 12 minutes due to foul trouble.
“I would say this is our most efficient game,” Romar said. “We did what we were supposed to do in terms of execution on both ends of the floor.”
It was one of Chriss’ finest performances. The forward fouled out in the final minute, but finished with 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting, with six rebounds and five blocked shots.
Romar and Chriss have talked this season about trying to limit the freshman’s fouls, which have been frequent and disruptive. And while he still reached the five-foul limit on Wednesday, Chriss at least stuck around long enough to impact the game.
“It was more fun playing the whole game instead of sitting on the bench the whole game,” said Chriss, who has fouled out of five games this season. “I think I have to try to pick and choose my spots wisely.”
Andrews, who scored 25 points in the second half, scored 10 of those in the first four minutes after intermission, and that helped the Huskies to a 64-42 lead.
Colorado (14-5, 3-3) didn’t go away. Dominique Collier sank a pair of 3-pointers during a 10-0 run to cut UW’s lead to 71-59, though the Huskies responded with eight consecutive points to push the lead back to 20.
But again, the Buffaloes chipped into the margin, using 3-pointers by guards George King and Josh Fortune, a bucket by Josh Scott — he scored 18 points, 15 in the second half — and a free throw by Tory Miller to make it 83-73 with 3:58 to play.
The Buffaloes couldn’t reduce their deficit any lower than nine points, though, and Andrews made all eight of his free-throw attempts in the final 1:26 — he was 16 of 17 for the game — to put it away.
Murray added 17 points for the Huskies, and Dime had 10 points and seven blocked shots.
“Once again,” Andrews said, “this is all just pieces of the puzzle that we’ve got to keep adding to.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME – Andrew Andrews might not have dominated this game, but the senior UW guard still scored 33 points — his second consecutive 30-point game and fifth this season — to lead all scorers. He did it by making 16 of his 17 free-throw attempts, and also hit a pair of important jumpers to quell a potential Colorado rally midway through the second half.
IT WAS OVER WHEN – Colorado started fouling Andrews in the final minute to send him to the free-throw line. He kept making his foul shots, and the Buffaloes couldn’t cut the deficit below nine points.
STAT OF THE GAME – The Huskies blocked 15 shots, which set a single-game school record. Malik Dime had seven of those and Marquese Chriss had five.
QUOTABLE – “He makes a big difference with our team. We’re very fortunate to have the record that we have with him being in as much foul trouble that he’s been in.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar on Chriss
WHAT IT MEANS – At 5-1 in Pac-12 play, the Huskies have already matched their conference win total from last season. And Wednesday’s first half might have been their most impressive period of the season, considering the competition. Colorado entered the game with an RPI ranking of 21st, so this could be an important win if the Huskies are in NCAA tournament contention in March.
UP NEXT – Utah at Washington, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, ESPNU