Just when the Arizona loss seemed to point towards a bleak picture for this Husky team, Washington won by playing with a new sense of urgency, and by depending on the young, developing players of the future to execute offensively. If that sounds a little out of the ordinary, don’t be alarmed. Just about everything that happened on the court tonight was a little bit unlikely.
Washington beating a very talented Arizona State team? Unlikely. That win coming on a night when C.J. Wilcox, the leading scorer in the conference, shot 2-11 from the field, including a scoreless first half? Unlikely. The Sun Devils falling despite 33 points from star freshman Jahii Carson? Unlikely. The Huskies hitting 21 of 22 free throw attempts? Uh, extremely unlikely.
It was just that kind of night. The Huskies started out hot, just like they did against Arizona on the same court on Thursday, but this time they were able to hold onto the lead even when the game evened out. A great deal of the scoring on Washington’s side came from two young, developing players: Shawn Kemp Jr and Andrew Andrews, and while it’s too early to know now, it’s very possible this game will serve as a breakout of sorts for both. Combine the hot shooting of those two with the energy and efficiency of Desmond Simmons (10 points and 7 rebounds) and Aziz N’Diaye, and the whole half felt like a UW awakening.
But slowly and surely, despite Washington’s continued scoring, the Sun Devils rode the inspired play of Jahii Carson and a hail of Jonathan Gilling three-pointers (he finished with 22 points) to a comeback, grinding down the Husky lead to one with 3:14 left in the contest. It was at this point that I began to think about how poorly Washington executed down the stretch in Thursday’s loss, how they couldn’t get baskets when they needed them most. However, where they failed against the Wildcats, they thrived versus the Sun Devils, using baskets from both N’Diaye (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Suggs (14 points) to respond to Carson’s heroic scoring in the final minutes before C.J. Wilcox (10 points, 7 assists) iced it with free throws with only 4 seconds remaining.
And so, win in hand, it is now time to begin sorting through the excitement of this game to decide what can be learned. On paper, it looks as if giving up 92 points indicates a serious defensive problem. While I can’t really dispute that completely, I think that the ugly number has to be taken with a grain of salt: the Sun Devils are an up-tempo, high-scoring team. Washington played to that style, and beat them at their own game, and I think in a different situation the intensity with which they played defense would have resulted in a much lower opponent shooting percentage.
As far as the offensive breakouts, optimism is fair, but it must be guarded. This is one game. Andrews scoring 20 points seems to me like the breakout he has been building towards, but until I see him continue to play with that aggressiveness, pushing the ball in transition like he did tonight, it just can’t be known for sure whether or not it will be a regular thing. Same goes with Kemp, as he was even less proven coming in to his 18 point, 6 rebound performance. Nothing looked at all gimmicky about the way he worked for his baskets in the low-post, and the possibility of such a low-post threat is tantalizing, but for now the only option is to hope that it’s for real.
That doesn’t just go for Kemp and Andrews. It goes for any optimism regarding this team at all. I want to believe that the Huskies will play with this same fire, and with this same offensive firepower, at UCLA on Thursday, but they have proven to be extremely inconsistent from one game to the next. And so I will wait, and I will be cautiously optimistic, but I will not assume anything until a pattern develops.
But hey, it was a wonderfully entertaining game, and it is a Husky win against an Arizona State team that absolutely walloped UCLA earlier this year. So even if it’s only that and a little hope, if not for this year than for the future of players like Andrews and Kemp, than it was a pretty good night for Washington basketball.