The Falcons, who finished 24-8 last season, started four seniors, including 7-foot former Husky center Gilles Dierickx. Washington countered with senior captain Andrew Andrews and four freshmen to start - Dejounte Murray, Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson and Marquese Chriss. Despite the disparity in experience, Washington wasn't intimidated, flexing their shooting chops on the perimeter while Andrew Andrews canned jumpers to pace UW early.
"We shot the ball but, again, we had a lot of points off turnovers too," Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said after the game. "I hope we can continue to shoot it like we did tonight.”
We saw a lot of encouraging signs Thursday. It was a sloppy game, but exhibitions are supposed to be messy, and Washington gave better than they got. The Huskies' young roster is extremely long on the perimeter, and they were a constant factor in the passing lanes. Tipped passes led to steals, which led to several easy fast breaks early in the game.
As the fouls mounted, Washington had to back off the pressure a bit, but the defensive energy remained surprisingly consistent despite expected occasional breakdowns.
Andrews was his usual aggressive self, but Chriss, in particular, stood out among the freshmen on the defensive end, showing impressive agility and instincts on the perimeter.
"I had four fouls myself," Andrews said afterward. "The way they were calling the game I think SPU was in foul trouble as well. It’s something we just have to adjust to and try not to use our hands as much. Since we have such an aggressive style of defense it’s going to be hard for us to kind of lay off and not use our hands as much, but that just comes with reps and time and just practicing it.”
The Huskies post players were clear winners against SPU despite playing through foul trouble. Dickerson scored 17 points on all manner of spins and put backs, while Chriss showed off his impressive skill set, which included a nifty transition behind-the-back crossover and lefty finish on the break. Romar has never had a front court duo with such potent potential, and it was on display for all to see tonight.
"Noah Dickerson, as I’ve said, is probably our best low-post scorer and just plays a little older than his age," Romar said. "When you have the guy that’s going to give you the best chance to score inside in there that’s going to help you. Marquese (Chriss) is our best athlete and he’s very, very versatile. He’s our most versatile big guy. That helps."
We heard quite a bit about the renewed defensive focus during the offseason, and that certainly seemed to be the case. Of course there were the occasional foibles; it was an exhibition game. The Huskies exceptional length on the wing was evident during the first half as they smothered the Falcons past half court. They got beat back door several times, but by design, and Washington's help defense improved considerably in the second half.
"Our defense is designed to have teams go back door, so when teams go back door we can’t be so far apart," said Andrews. "We need to have our back-side help there as well. That’s probably our biggest thing we need to work on.”
The Dawgs had 10 steals, coaxing the veteran Falcons into 12 first half turnovers and 22 for the game, deflecting passes and generally out-hustling their opponents to the ball.
Fouls were a problem though - for both teams. A startling 58 fouls were blown - 31 on the Huskies - and for the most part it was hard to argue with the referees. Washington's starting front court of Dickerson and Chriss both landed in foul trouble early in the first half, forcing the Huskies to look to Malik Dime and Devenir Duruisseau for help. Both Washington's starting bigs handled the foul trouble with maturity, managing to stay on the floor en route to big scoring performances.
"There are some things we did tonight that we haven’t done in several years: almost score 100 points, get 10 steals," Romar said. "We forced turnovers maybe, but not just pure steals. We were in the lane and they lead to points. There were quite a few turnovers. We had 19 points off fast break points, 32 points off of their turnovers. That’s pretty good. With that you’re going to give up some easy baskets from time to time, but we like the trade off.”
Washington's backcourt showcased the talents of more than just Andrews, though he did lead the team in scoring with 21 points. The team captain appeared to be in mid-season form, drilling his first two shots as the Huskies grabbed an early 7-3 lead.
Despite being saddled early with two fouls, Baby Boy Murray turned in a rock solid, 16-point performance. He shot the ball well, canning mid-range pull ups from both elbows and connected on 2-4 from behind the three-point line.
"Tonight he had some outside shots, but he can also pass the ball," Romar said of Baby Boy. "He can get to the rim. He’s a pretty versatile guard.”
Dominic Green was a cooly efficient 4-5 from the floor, connecting on 2-3 from behind the arc. Not to be outdone, David Crisp hit a couple of step back jumpers late in the second half to finish with 10 points. The Huskies have suffered though perimeter scoring droughts the last couple of seasons, but those concerns have abated considerably with the new guards.
"Ideally, we would love for our teams to have five guys average double figures," Romar said of the balanced scoring attack. "That’s what we would love, so six is even better."
It wasn't all gravy, though. Washington didn't rebound the ball very well, and that figures to be a recurring theme this season given the Huskies' undersized posts. It is going to take a community effort on the glass, and while guard rebounding has always been a hallmark of Romar's teams, they didn't show up in the box score tonight.
"I only had one rebound and I feel like I have to come back and go rebound," said Andrews. "The bigs are busy blocking out one of their biggest guys, so I think it’s on some of the guards like myself and a couple others to come back and rebound the ball and help them out. I think that will help us out with rebounding.”
They also turned the ball over a lot - 19 times, to be exact. While exhibitions are rarely a polished affair, with so many youngsters, UW is probably going to struggle with turnovers for a while.
That said, the win was exactly what Washington Basketball fans needed to see. It wasn't a perfect game, but that was never the objective. Washington showed that the upgrade in personnel is for real. The much ballyhooed athletic upgrade was obviously apparent, and the new shotmakers made their mark on the game, each in their own way.
Husky fans can only hope the feeling lasts. Washington leaves for China on Sunday to meet a potential buzzsaw in Shaka Smart's Texas team, and they're not going to be as easily intimidated.
"It’s a little different because you have to watch their personnel and watch Texas, but then VCU is the coach; Shaka Smart is now the new coach," Romar said. "Just watching Texas won’t give you an indication of how they’ll play at all. They’ll play completely different. By the time we tip off next week we will have watched a lot of film.”