The Huskies worked their game plan perfectly, but the results were mostly imperfect in the early minutes of their season-opening 85-63 victory.
After a relatively easy and satisfying opening night debut, Lorenzo Romar resisted any prodding to proclaim the Huskies a team bound for the NCAA tournament.
“It’s too early to tell,” he said. “If our guys can stay together and keep getting better, then we can be competitive with most teams.”
Romar wouldn’t do it, but Loyola Maryland coach Jimmy Patsos didn’t hold back praising the Huskies after they overcame first-half struggles and blew out the Greyhounds in an 85-63 victory in the first game of the Tip-Off Hall of Fame tournament.
“If the big guy is going to play like that all year, they’re going to be a lot better than the fifth (best) team in the Pac-12,” Patsos said, referring to a preseason media poll that picked UW fifth.
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The “big guy” was 7-foot senior center Aziz N’Diaye, who made it nearly impossible for the Greyhounds to score anything near the rim and at one point in the first half nearly had as many rebounds as Loyola.
N’Diaye finished with a career-best 16 boards, 10 points and three blocks in 32 minutes in front of 7,381 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“Aziz N’Diaye was sensational,” Romar said. “It seemed like he was getting every ball that was coming at him and he held on to them for the most part.”
The Greyhounds didn’t start anyone taller than 6-8 and had no one who could control N’Diaye.
In the past, he struggled against smaller opponents who would use their quickness to get him in foul trouble.
In the opening minute Sunday, Loyola forward Erik Etherly sailed to the basket for a layup before N’Diaye swatted the ball off the glass.
The Huskies needed a strong performance from N’Diaye because they’re short-handed due to the absence of injured Shawn Kemp Jr., who will miss six to eight weeks with a right-knee injury.
“Just being the big man, I’ve got to protect the paint,” N’Diaye said. “I’ve just got to hustle for rebounds and try and get second shots and with Shawn being out I just have to step it up. I’m just trying to give my all and help my teammates out.”
With N’Diaye dominating on the defensive end, the Huskies held Loyola to 36.5 percent shooting.
Offensively, Washington relied on its trio of guards — junior C.J. Wilcox finished with a game-high 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting, Abdul Gaddy had 17 points and Scott Suggs 15.
It may have been the easiest 22 Wilcox has ever scored. He put much more effort and energy into defending Loyola’s best player, Dylon Cormier, who had a team-high 19 points.
Offensively Wilcox looked as if he was conducting a shooting clinic while the Huskies debuted their new high-post offense.
“It was pretty simple because of just way the offense is set up,” Wilcox said. “Other guys are scoring points so they can’t really just focus on me.”
In previous years, the 6-5 guard often stood in the corner and waited until someone threw him the ball.
In UW’s new offense, he’s in constant motion. He’s running the baseline. He’s rubbing off picks. He zips to the top of the key where he launched a series of shots.
Wilcox drained 4 of 5 three-pointers.
Even Romar acknowledged it was a quiet 22 points for Wilcox.
“I would say tonight it was a quiet 85 points,” he said. “It was a low-possession game in a lot of cases and we shot 54 percent and I thought we got great shots. We were 53 percent from the three-point line and 73 percent from the foul line and we got to the foul line a lot.
“The offense tonight created great balance to make the defense pay. Four guys were in double figures and if Andrew Andrews made a free throw we would have five guys in double figures. If you’re executing hopefully that’s what happens.”
Washington led 33-31 at halftime, but outscored Loyola 52-32 in the second half.
The 18-point win over a quality mid-major team that played in the NCAA tournament last season is reason for the Huskies to be optimistic.
“It shows that we’re a capable team,” Wilcox said. “There’s a lot of things we need to work on. If we work on them, I’m confident in my team. I think we can be a (NCAA) tournament team.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen
|LOYOLA (MD.) 63|
Percentages: FG .365, FT .542. Three-point goals: 4-16, .250 (Olson 2-8, Jones 1-1, Hubbard 1-5, Cormier 0-1, Rassman 0-1). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 5 (Etherly 3, Onyiuke, Brooks). Turnovers: 12 (Olson 4, Jones 3, Etherly 3, Hubbard 2). Steals: 3 (Etherly, Jones, Latham). Technical fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .540, FT .733. Three-point goals: 9-17, .529 (Wilcox 4-5, Suggs 3-5, Simmons 1-1, Gaddy 1-2, Breunig 0-1, Andrews 0-3). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 8 (N’Diaye 3, Gaddy 2, Wilcox, Jarreau, Andrews). Turnovers: 12 (N’Diaye 2, Jarreau 2, Wilcox 2, Gaddy 2, Stewart, Breunig, Andrews, Suggs). Steals: 4 (Simmons 2, Jarreau, Gaddy). Technical fouls: None.
Attendance: 7,381. Officials: Michael Irving, Michael Eggers, Brett Nansel.