HONOLULU – Playing their second game in 24 hours, the Huskies didn’t have the normal spring in their legs, which largely explains their ragged start offensively Monday night.
However, No. 21 Washington did have its trademark 2-3 zone defense, which stifled Hawaii’s perimeter attack and proved to be the catalyst for a 72-61 victory in the second round of the Diamond Head Classic.
Washington (10-2) gets a day off to savor the win before advancing to the title game on Christmas Day to face Houston (9-3), which beat Georgia Tech 70-59 in the other semifinal.
“I’m just proud of our team,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “We looked like we were in mud the first 4-5 minutes, but I thank the Lord that our defense was holding up and they didn’t have their best shooting night.”
Hawaii never solved the Huskies’ confounding defense, which held the Rainbow Warriors to just nine three-pointers on a season-high 39 attempts behind the arc.
“It’s hard when you don’t have a day to prep for their zone,” UH interim coach Chris Gerlufsen said. “I’m not happy about 39 three-pointers, but when you get down you fall into a situation where you’re shooting them a little bit more than you normally would.
“But to beat them, you probably have to make 12 or 13 threes. We’re not good enough in the mid-range and at the rim to beat them if we don’t hit shots from outside. They do a good job of running you off the line and contesting what would normally be an open shot. So we were unable to find enough consistent offense tonight.”
The host team, which was buoyed by a boisterous crowd at Stan Sheriff Center, also never had an answer for UW’s star freshman forward Isaiah Stewart, who finished with 26 points – one shy of his career high – and 13 rebounds.
“I thought they were going to double, but I saw they were playing me one-on-one and thank God for coaches and teammates because as soon as they saw that they told me … ‘Just go every time,’” said Stewart, who connected on 13 of 21 shots, including four dunks before fouling out in the final two minutes. “There were some times I was trying to be unselfish, but they told me to keep doing what I was doing.”
A night after scoring 51 points in the first half and draining a season-high 11 three-pointers during Sunday’s 85-64 blowout victory over Ball State, UW’s offense relied solely on Stewart for long stretches as it converted just 3 of 15 three-pointers and committed 17 turnovers.
Quade Green tallied 11 points and seven assists, Nahziah Carter had 10 points and Jaden McDaniels nearly had a double-double (nine points and 13 rebounds) for the Huskies.
“Defense was the story,” Hopkins said. “We turned it over. I don’t know if it was fatigue or what, but some of the turnovers we weren’t making in the first game we made tonight.
“You got to credit Hawaii. They were very well-coached. They knew our plays. They did a really good job. We just couldn’t separate as much as we needed to in the second half.”
Washington took the lead early and led for more than 37 minutes.
The Huskies used a 24-11 run midway through the first half, which included a highlight fast-break flush from Stewart, to extend their advantage to 34-20 just before halftime.
Minutes later, Carter stole the ball away from UH guard Bernardo da Silva at midcourt and raced towards the other end to drain a three-pointer as the first-half buzzer sounded, which put the Huskies up 37-22.
Washington led 47-35 when the Rainbow Warriors cut their 12-point deficit to six (51-45) with 5:28 left.
The Huskies answered with a decisive 8-0 run, which was capped by Stewart’s alley-oop flush on a feed from Green that gave Washington a 59-45 lead at the 2:05 mark.
Led by 16 points off the bench by Justin Weber, Hawaii (8-4) closed to seven points with 24 seconds left.
However, the Huskies made their final four free throws to hold on to their third consecutive victory. Washington converted 21 of 29 at the line.
“To be able to play a team the caliber of Hawaii in their home was a great experience for us,” Hopkins said. “We learned that we can be poised in a pretty crazy environment.”
— Stewart collected the Pac-12 freshman of the week award for the second time this season. He averaged a double-double (23.0 points and 11.5 rebounds) and shot 73.1% from the field in victories over Seattle University and Ball State.
— Washington moved up a spot in The Associated Press Top 25 rankings to No. 21. Oregon is the top Pac-12 team in the poll at No. 6 and Arizona dropped eight spots to No. 24.