The UW men’s basketball squad took control in the final four minutes to secure a 91-87 victory at Alaska Airlines Arena.
When perfected and run properly, first-year coach Mike Hopkins believes the Washington men’s basketball team’s newly installed 2-3 zone defense will be its “ice ball in a snowball fight” that tips games in favor of the Huskies.
Maybe so, but midway in the second half of Thursday’s exhibition, Hopkins abandoned the zone in favor of a frenetic fullcourt press and man-to-man defense that proved to be the catalyst for a 91-87 comeback victory over a red-hot shooting Division II Saint Martin’s.
“Mentally, when you play a team like that, you got to make sure they don’t have the three-point line,” Hopkins said. “We kept saying ‘No threes. No threes. No threes.’ And they somehow found ways or little openings.”
The Huskies trailed by 11 points early and were down nine midway in the second half to the lower-tier Saints from Lacey.
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“We didn’t really play with a sense of urgency,” junior guard David Crisp said. “Not really starting off fast and starting with a lot of energy.
“They had to hit seven threes before we really started (thinking), ‘OK let’s get on them.’ And still, they were hitting them. Our effort has to be better. The effort wasn’t there early.”
Saint Martin’s connected on five of its first six three-pointers to pull ahead 18-7 with 14:22 left in the first half. Washington tightened its zone and Crisp scored 14 of his 18 points to give the Huskies a 46-40 lead at halftime.
When it seemed as if the Huskies had control of the game, Saint Martin’s reignited from downtown.
Inexplicably, Washington had difficulty finding and stopping Saints guards Luke Chavez, who scored 32 points and sank 6 of 10 three-pointers, and EJ Boyce, who finished with 22 points and canned 7 of 12 behind the arc.
Washington had hoped to hold the Saints to fewer than 40 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent on three-pointers, but Saint Martin’s shot 45.9 from the floor and 52.9 behind the arc.
The Huskies weren’t nearly as prolific from downtown while converting 7 of 16 (43.8 percent), but did a great deal of damage at the free-throw line where they converted 30 of 39 free throws.
“They made bank shot threes,” Hopkins said. “Those guys were looking like the Golden State Warriors. We’ve got to tip our hats to them. They looked really good. They moved the ball. They shot the ball and it was a great learning experience for us.”
Saint Martin’s went up 73-64 with 9:17 left when Hopkins ditched the zone and went to a man-to-man defense.
It took nearly four minutes for the Huskies to tie it up, but after they didn’t regain the lead until the 3:25-minute mark when Noah Dickerson and Carlos Johnson canned consecutive layups and gave UW an 87-84 lead with 1:42 left.
Chavez struck again and drained a jumper that brought Saint Martin’s within a point (87-86) in the final minute.
On its final possession, UW was ahead 89-87 when Hopkins drew up a play for freshman guard Jaylen Nowell.
The Huskies cleared out for the former Garfield High star guard, who drove to the basket and dropped a short jumper with 11 seconds left. He finished with 14 points and sealed the game on the ensuing play with a steal on the last play.
“We found a way to win,” Crisp said. “The most important thing is we’re trying to get wins. It was definitely an ugly win.”
It had been a long time since the Huskies felt this good after a game. They finished a 9-22 campaign last season with a 12-game losing streak.
Still, as auditions go, it was a mixed dress rehearsal for Washington, which opens the regular season at home on Nov. 10 against Belmont.
The Huskies had five players in double-digit scoring, including Matisse Thybulle (14 points and four steals) and Nahzier Carter (10 points).
But Washington nearly lost its exhibition game for a second straight year, which is an ominous sign as the Hopkins era begins.
“We’re OK,” said Dickerson, who finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, both team highs. “We’re good. I promise you that.”