Considering the talent drain to the NBA draft and the absence of suspended star Nahziah Carter, scoring was going to be an issue for the Washington men’s basketball team in its opener Sunday.
Sure enough, the Huskies had difficulties keeping pace offensively with No. 2 Baylor, which raced out to a 24-point lead after 13 minutes while UW missed 12 of its first 14 shots.
Washington cut its deficit to 12 points just before halftime, but never got any closer during a lopsided 86-52 defeat at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“Tough night,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said during a teleconference call. “We felt like we had good practices and we felt like we were ready. From the beginning of the game, we just looked a little bit tight. Some nerves and got down a deep deficit. … When you’re playing against a top team like this, that just can’t happen.
“We showed some signs, put some different lineups in and learned a lot about ourselves, but No. 1 it’s obvious we have to rebound the ball a lot better.”
Before their Thursday matchup at Utah, the Huskies will need to address their frontline deficiencies that Baylor exploited for a 50-19 edge in rebounding.
Washington lost star forwards Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, who were taken in the first round of the NBA draft, and replaced them with sophomore Nate Roberts and senior Hameir Wright.
In his first start, Roberts compiled six points, five rebounds and four blocks in 29 minutes, but Wright finished with just two points and one rebound before fouling out in 14 minutes.
“Our guards didn’t do a good enough job rebounding,” Hopkins said. “They were leaking and they need to stay in there and be tough.”
The Bears dominated inside with 21 offensive rebounds, which resulted in a 24-5 advantage in second-chance points.
“We just got to be tougher,” said junior guard Jamal Bey, who had eight points and two rebounds. “We got to get grittier. … We know in the zone that’s our weak spot. We just got to collectively as a group especially the guards up top – myself included – we didn’t rebound hard enough.”
Making matters worse for the Huskies, Baylor converted 13 of 29 three-pointers while Washington’s revamped perimeter attack made just 5 of 24 shots outside the arc.
Sophomore guard RaeQuan Battle led UW with 10 points off the bench, but shot 3 of 11 from the field, including 2 of 8 on three-pointers.
“I love RaeQuan’s fight,” Hopkins said. “I felt like in the beginning of the game, they hit us in the face and we didn’t respond well. We looked a little tight. That’s why we wanted to play this game to see what the best feels like.
“I felt like RaeQuan was battling. He was competing. If he can do that, (we’ll) get him some open shots and he’ll shoot better percentages. He’ll help us going forward.”
Washington fell behind 31-7 with 7:21 remaining in the first half before scoring seven consecutive points and finishing with a 17-7 run to trail 38-24 at halftime.
It was a less than ideal start for a young UW team that debuted three new starters and four newcomers without its best player Carter, whose return this season is uncertain.
Heralded newcomer Erik Stevenson took Carter’s spot in the lineup, but the Wichita State transfer had an uneven UW debut with eight points on 2-for-6 shooting, three steals and four turnovers in 25 minutes.
Hopkins used 11 players while searching for an offensive spark, but Washington shot 42.3% from the field and Battle was the only one to reach double-digit scoring.
Last year, the Huskies trailed for 36 minutes and overcame a 13-point deficit before upsetting then-No. 16 Baylor with a 67-64 victory in the season opener in Alaska.
This time, the Bears put the game away early in the second half with a 15-5 run to go up 53-29 with 14:52 left. Washington never got closer than 22 points the rest of the way and trailed by as much as 37 in its most lopsided defeat in Hopkins’ four-year tenure.
“We did a way better job defending the three-point line,” Hopkins said when asked the difference between UW’s victory over Baylor last year and the defeat Sunday. “You play a top team in the country and they go 13 for 29 (on three-pointers). Last year they were plus-four on rebounding and didn’t hurt us in the paint. We held them to 32% near the basket.
“When we came back in last year’s game, we fought them pretty hard. I felt like there was moments tonight, but not consistent to beat a team of this caliber.”
Baylor played its second consecutive game without its coach Scott Drew, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week and is in quarantine.
However, the Bears (2-0) were nearly flawless thanks to a 20-point performance from national player of the year candidate Jared Butler. Adam Flagler added 17 points, MaCio Teague 15 and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua 12.
“This year is all about the kids,” Hopkins said. “Usually in past years, you get a couple of exhibition games to see what you got. Our exhibition was a real game against the No. 2 team in the country.
“We wanted to play the game and it was a great opportunity. … Just got to learn from this and get better.”
— Monday, the Huskies are scheduled to fly from Las Vegas to Utah for the game Thursday against the Utes.
However, it’s unclear if Utah will be able to hold the Pac-12 opener considering its coach, Larry Krystkowiak, and eight players tested positive for COVID-19 last week.