The search for answers continued Tuesday night as former Washington assistant Ken Bone and his Portland State Vikings put their 7-4 record on the line against the struggling 5-4 Huskies. With just four games remaining before the start of conference play, the starting lineup remained the same as the previous game for the first time since December 1st. Hoping to avoid another anemic start like last Saturday's game against the University of Portland, the Huskies looked to establish some offensive rhythm early.
"I'm proud of our guys, really proud of our guys," said Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar after the game. "They (PSU) are a good team and I knew tonight we were going to need to play well to win this game. I thought our guys shared the basketball, and in spite of them shooting 50 percent, I thought we made progress again."
The Dawgs indeed started fast, with quick buckets by Jon Brockman (24 points and 12 rebounds on the night) and Tim Morris (13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists.) The euphoria was short-lived. What looked to be an encouraging start quickly turned into a prolonged scoring drought, managing just four points over the next eight minutes.
Romar has been starting his five best defensive players of late, and it was Washington's defense that kept them in the game when their offense stuttered. Anchored by Brockman and Artem Wallace, the Dawgs were stifling under the hoop. For most of the period they were solid on the perimeter as well. But the Vikings feature a pair of shooters in Jeremiah Dominguez and walk-on Mickey Polis, and their diminutive stature didn't stop them from repeatedly hitting from deep. The duo combined for 24 points on 7-8 from 3-point range.
The Dawgs had an answer, and it came in the form of Appleby (24 points, 4 assists.) Since returning from a thumb injury, the senior from Stanwood has been scintillating, averaging 18 points, while asserting himself defensively as well. Appleby was unconscious early, hitting five of six three pointers including a running buzzer-beater to close the half.
Behind Appleby's spectacular performance, the Huskies went into halftime with a six point advantage, 43-37.
"I see it every day," said Brockman, regarding Appleby's shooting performance. "He's consistent on it. If he's left open, he's going to hit it. At the end of the half he was being guarded by two guys and his body was twisted and he still hit the shot.
"I'm going to get in trouble because there were a couple of times when I was watching him instead of trying to get into position to rebound."
The second half started much like the first, only this time the offense didn't fall silent after a promising start.
With the defense draped all over Appleby, the Dawgs turned to their other two captains for leadership. Brockman and Morris took advantage of the constant attention being paid to Appleby with a flurry of drop-steps and short jumpers and Washington quickly stretched their lead to double-digits. An Appleby 3-point bucket with 11:51 left in the game gave UW a 66-55 advantage.
"I think that Brockman and Appleby compliment one another," explained Romar about the Huskies' inside-out balance. "Jon would probably tell you right away that he didn't play his best basketball the last couple of games. You have to credit our team for getting those guys the basketball."
The Vikings didn't go quietly, continuing to battle despite the obvious turn of momentum. With Washington emphasizing on closing down Domiguez and Polis on the perimeter, the Vikings attacked the rim, hoping to exploit the stretched defense. The long-range shots that fell for Portland State in the first half didn't in the second.
"The big difference in the second half was that we switched defenders," said Romar about his team's halftime defensive improvement. "In the second half we did a better job of not losing those guys and keeping guys in front of us so we weren't in rotation situations."
With Brockman dropping jumpers from the corner, the Dawgs pulled away for good, closing out a solid victory.
"When Brockman starts to hit those 15-17 foot jumpers while rebounding like he does, it's hard to stop him," said Bone after the game.
The Huskies' win was also significant in that a semblance of a rotation has begun to emerge. With Wallace and freshman forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning solidifying the post and Morris and Joel Smith finding ways to complement Brockman and Appleby, depth and rotations are starting to reveal themselves as the Huskies start to get ready for conference play.
Points: Brockman 24, Appleby 21, Morris 13, Pondexter 10, Wallace 4, Bryan-Amaning 4, Smith 3, Wolfinger 3, Dentmon 2
Rebounds: Brockman 12, Pondexter 5, Morris 4, Wallace 3, Bryan-Amaning 3, TEAM 3, Appleby 2, Overton 2
Assists: Smith 4, Morris 4, Appleby 4, Overton 3, Wallace 2, Dentmon 2, Pondexter 2, Brockman 1, Bryan-Amaning 1
Steals: Brockman 2, Dentmon 2, Wallace 1, Smith 1, Bryan-Amaning 1
Appleby's hot hand paces Huskies
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