Beach's Breakdown - FIU

SEATTLE - Thursday's 23-point victory over Florida International at Hec Ed may not have been the blow-out Washington fans have been waiting for, but the Huskies continue to grow as a team. It didn't start out that way, though.

The first half was dreadful to watch. Whether it be the lid covering the basket or the dreadful passing that resulted in six first half steals for FIU, UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar had to be scratching his head as we walked into the locker-room at halftime down one and wondering what it was going to take to make his guards get with the program.

Fortunately for both Romar and Washington fans, the lights finally turned on a minute into the second half, and for the first time this season the Huskies played like a team for an extended period of time. With Justin Holiday's insertion into the normal starting rotation of Jon Brockman, Darnell Gant, Justin Dentmon and Isaiah Thomas, things finally seemed to click.

Holiday and Gant bring an energetic 'X-Factor' to the team that Washington hasn't had the last two seasons, and it became apparent Thursday night that despite the fact that neither lit up the stat sheet, they were both critical to the team's success. For the second straight night, "The Fireman" - as Holiday has become known - was a menace at both ends of the court.

He is living proof that a player doesn't need to score to help win basketball games for his team. Holiday's seven rebounds and three assists in 19 minutes didn't do justice to his performance. Like Bobby Jones before him, Holiday may never be a player whose worth is measured by a stat sheet. Gant brings similar intangibles to the court and possesses a bit more offensive firepower with his outside shot. something the Huskies will need.

Speaking of shooting, there's nothing wrong with an off-shooting night every now and than. Even the best teams have them, but until the second half of this game, the Huskies had yet to have a good shooting night, or even a good shooting half. That is disconcerting for a number of reasons: First and foremost, the Huskies inability to knock down outside shots impacts the way opponents can defend Jon Brockman.

In the case of Florida International, they double-teamed Brockman no matter where he stood on the court, with the entire team collapsing on him any time he received the ball. Dentmon woke up in the nick of time to save what could have been an incredibly embarrassing outcome, but Washington needs more than just Dentmon to hit from outside if they are hoping to return to the NCAA tournament this season. There are plenty of shooters on the roster besides Dentmon: Joe Wolfinger, who has been inexplicably poor from three; Elston Turner and Isaiah Thomas all possess quality strokes from outside, but being good shooters on paper doesn't win games. They need to start hitting their shots.

Freshman Thomas finally had the offensive night he'd been waiting for, though he remains cold from outside. His 19 points were indicative of what he is capable of on any given night, but he is also learning that driving the lane at the college level isn't nearly as easy as it was in high school. There were several times he got caught inside the forest without a chainsaw.

Defensively they still have a ways to go before they are ready for conference play, but the Dawgs were much improved. Holiday and Gant provided a huge safety net when the guards lost their man on dribble penetration, but that doesn't come without consequences. A crafty opponent will exploit it and eventually find the open man if the Husky guards start continue to rely on the rotation to be there.

The post defense continued to be an area of strength tonight, even going up against taller posts who can play with their back to the basket. Brockman is simply one of the finest defenders in the game despite his lack of height, and Holiday and Gant are both blazing quick to the ball.

We got to see our first glimpse of Scott Suggs, minus the face mask, and he's not likely to make his presence felt until next year as he adjusts to the speed of the college game. Artem Wallace also saw his first action of the season as he recovers from knee surgery. He looked a little sluggish in limited minutes

Venoy Overton and Quincy Pondexter continued their Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde acts, neither having much of an impact on the tenor of the game. Overton struggled with his passing, especially in transition. Pondexter was unable to build on his strong performance against Cleveland State, appearing tentative and unsure of how to attack the Panthers' taller front line. And just like he did Tuesday night, Pondexter went right from the court to the gym to work out after the FIU game. 'Q' remains the Huskies' biggest question mark.

Ultimately it was a good night overall, the ugly first half notwithstanding. The second half stretch that saw the Huskies race ahead was a joy to watch, as the team shared the ball on offense and smothered Florida International on the defensive end. If the Huskies can replicate their success during that stretch Monday against Kansas, Washington fans are going to have a lot to cheer about.


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