Beach's Breakdown – WWU

SEATTLE - Sure it was only Western Washington University, but Husky fans are breathing a huge sigh of relief after Washington's 105-85 victory Thursday night. Beating a Division II basketball team by 20 points isn't exactly an accomplishment, but it was the way they did it that should have fans excited.

First, from a team perspective, it was clear from the outset that the days of pounding the ball into the post or setting multiple screens in an effort to free Ryan Appleby for a 3-pointer have come and gone.

The way they played against the Vikings was a clear indication the Dawgs have returned to playing the style of basketball during the Lorenzo Romar era that put UW hoops back on the map in the first place. Despite some early jitters, Washington was a constant force around the basket, attacking at will on both ends and physically overwhelming WWU. Overall, the point guard-by-committee strategy worked well and kept WWU from focusing on any one player in particular. As a result, the guards turned in a monster night, racking up a combined 55 points.

Defensively, they clearly remain a work in progress. At times they were excellent, and there's little doubt that with a consistent effort the Huskies can be a exceptional defensive team. But much like last year, they also lapsed into periods of general defensive malaise, even boredom against an inferior foe.

Individually, it was a very good night for most of the Huskies, with none more dramatic than the long awaited debut of freshman Isaiah Thomas, who was greeted with the loudest roar during pre-game introductions. To call Thomas' performance scintillating may be an understatement, though it came as a surprise to no one who has ever seen him play. Contrary to popular opinion, Thomas was not a liability on defense, though occasional mental lapses marred an otherwise solid performance. It wasn't all roses for the diminutive freshmen though, especially in the first half as his selfish tendencies overwhelmed his much-lauded playmaking abilities. He often took the ball to the rack, rather than finding wide open teammates. Things turned in the second half, as his true passing abilities hit their mark. Overall, the results were nothing short of mesmerizing. Thomas ended his brief 19 minute night with 27 points.

Jon Brockman was….Jon Brockman. An absolute terror in limited minutes, the senior forward averaged nearly a rebound a minute - ending his night with a 14-point, 18-rebound effort in just 22 minutes. He's leaner, quicker and more explosive, but arguably the biggest improvement in Brockman's game was his 67 percent free throw percentage (4-6), as he debuted a simpler, more natural free throw shot – sans dribble.

Justin Dentmon was easily the most impressive of the returning Husky gaurds. Dentmon worked tirelessly all summer on his long-range shooting, which manifested itself Thursday night in an18-point performance in 19 minutes. Dentmon connected on four of six from downtown. The senior from Carbondale, Ill. was a constant calming presence, making few errors and it was plainly obvious that his return to the starting lineup is a permanent one. Defensively he was a menace as well, netting three steals on the night.

Venoy Overton didn't burn up the stat sheet in his 22 minutes but his steady hand at point guard provided the Huskies with experienced depth. Overton showed no signs of his new role off the bench becoming a letdown, and actually energized Washington's defensive effort when things were lagging. He was also very effective at outrunning his opponents on the break.

Quincy Pondexter had a tough time getting going early as Thomas missed him several times for open looks, but he was a force on the glass, his work in the weight room paying dividends. Pondexter ended his 22-minute night with 13 points and eight rebounds, also connecting on 50 percent of his shots from three point range (1-2), while giving fans little reason to doubt that he has turned a corner in his Husky career. His work on the defensive end showed signs of improvement, especially in the effort department, and his instincts appear to have improved, though he still has trouble staying in front of his man on occasion.

Much has been made of Justin Holiday's improvements, and they were readily apparent on the defensive end. The slender sophomore blocked three shots and altered countless others, but showed few signs of emerging from his offensive cocoon. Frankly he was very tentative, something Romar said they hadn't seen this fall.

Darnell Gant did a solid job around the basket in earning the starting nod while Artem Wallace continues to get healthy. Gant displayed many of the same traits Holiday did on the defensive end, grabbing board boards and blocking a shot, and demonstrating a lovely spin move in the paint as the game came to a close. At times he looked the part of a freshman, and he won't be counted on to score much, but Gant's versatility was obvious, especially on defense. He seemed at ease whether on the perimeter or setting up in the post.

Matthew Bryan-Amaning started out slowly, looking very much the same player as last year. As the game progressed, he simplified his approach and the result was a 10-point second half which also included two blocked shots. Defensively, Amaning still has a ways to go, though his physicality and length were often enough to compensate for other defensive breakdowns.

Joe Wolfinger also started out of the gates passively, his early minutes mired by sloppy play, but came on late as he moved to the high post. Known for his outside shot, Wolf also has a nice touch around the hoop once he turns his face toward the tin, and he wasn't nearly the defensive liability he was last season. The 7-footer ended the night with 7-point, 4-rebound performance in 11 minutes of work.

Elston Turner had a rough shooting night, hitting just 1-5 from three, and earned his first foul as a Husky in less than five seconds, but his readiness was obvious. His game is devoid of the normal freshman trappings and lapses in focus, and he carried himself like an upperclassmen for most of his 20 minutes.

Ironically enough, the highest-rated freshman of the class showed that he's probably the one that has the furthest to go. There's no doubting the skills of guard Scott Suggs, but for the most part he looked like he was in over his head, often finding himself trying to find his way out of trouble. Long term, he's going to be a dynamite player, but we're not going to see him at his best this year. And given the depth at guard, Suggs can afford to spend this year finding his way and getting comfortable with his new environment.

On the whole, Thursday night's win was a very encouraging one for Husky fans, despite the fact that it won't count toward their totals. The roster depth is going to be a huge asset as the season's wear and tear takes its inevitable toll. The incredible debut of Thomas and the obvious improvement in Dentmon's game point to what looks like a resurgent season for Washington. Though the team struggled at times defensively, the Huskies are way ahead of where they were at this point last year, and there's no doubt they are going to be a big factor in the 2008-09 Pac-10 race.

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