Baby Boy, as he's been known from a young age, was immediately anointed 'The Savior' of the UW program when he verbally committed to the Huskies two years ago. Fans heaped wild expectations on the talented Rainier Beach star, conveniently forgetting his youth and occasionally piling on criticism as he's learned on the job with the Purple and Gold.
From the start, Murray has been one of the team's most consistently productive players, averaging 14.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game as he’s adapted to the college game. And now as we near the mid-point of the season - a season full of firsts for most of the roster - Murray offered up the first marquee performance of his brief 14-game career at UW, his first truly memorable moment as a Husky.
While his numbers against the Trojans - 29 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals - were impressive, it was his command of the situation, his effort and confidence in the face of long odds during UW's massive comeback, that stood out most on Sunday.
Murray is tailor-built to thrive in high tempo contests like the one between USC and Washington. It's the way he played throughout his youth.
“That style of basketball is bliss for him,” Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said after the game. “It was just him going out there and hooping, and there aren’t too many out there better than him.”
Washington hasn’t faced many teams that could keep up with them this season. That is, until the USC Trojans marched into Alaska Airlines Arena Sunday afternoon tearing a page right out of the Huskies' playbook.
“On our scout they were just like us, just a little older,” senior guard Andrew Andrews said of USC. “We wanted to make it that type of game. The first half and the first few minutes of the second half we didn’t have any energy. Maybe that had to do with UCLA or maybe it doesn’t. But we wanted to make it a fast game.”
The game played out almost exactly as expected. The Trojans and Huskies are nearly mirror images of each other. Both are young, athletically gifted rosters with some startling statistical similarities. Both teams crash the offensive glass, create turnovers, and block a lot of shots. But USC does one thing better than Washington; they can shoot. That’s exactly what they did throughout most of the game, picking apart UW from the perimeter.
The Huskies, however, had their own ace up their sleeve - belief. They're scrappy. Turns out, all they needed was a couple of breaks and a little motivation to get the motor revved up. Murray, with considerable help from his backcourt mates, was the catalyst. The Dawg Pack provided the fuel.
“I just stay aggressive every game," Murray said, downplaying his performance. "It’s either going to go my way or not. I stayed aggressive and my teammates trusted me and my shots were falling. We just stayed together, stayed positive, and took every possession like it was our last, starting with defense and we got the win."
In Murray, Washington has the shot-maker they've lacked since Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross departed for the NBA in 2012. When the action becomes fluid the way it did Sunday, he's able to get in rhythm and react instinctively.
He has game-breaking ability.
The Trojans were helpless to stop his dribble penetration, try as they might. As the momentum shifted, Murray's long limbs and boundless energy became a disruptive force on the defensive end, which shifted the tide even quicker in Washington's direction.
"This is a special group," Romar said of his young team. "Every one of these guys wants to play in the NBA, but nobody is out there putting their personal interest ahead of the team. it’s going to be fun to coach these guys and watch them grow. We said that if we will sell out to playing the way we want to play we’ll have as much fun as we’ve ever had. When they do that they have fun. They’ve been playing with each other since the summer. When the game starts they’re all for one."
Baby Boy has grown up quickly, and he gave all of Husky nation a glimpse into future.
"It was crazy. It’s just crazy," said Murray about the electric hometown crowd.
As the Huskies prepare for their first conference road trip of the season against Washington State this coming Saturday, they will undoubtedly stub their toe from time to time over the coming months as all young teams do. Yet this team might have the game chops to buck even those odds.
After all, who had Washington being UCLA and USC to start the season?
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised as much as I am pleased to see us do it," said Romar after the two emotional comebacks. "Games like this for a young team early as they’re still developing, if you can sneak one of these in, they’re so valuable for us. We can always say we were down 20 with 15 minutes to go. There aren’t many situations we can say we don’t have a chance.”