In keeping with the ghostly Halloween theme that permeated Alaska Airlines Arena, the new-look Washington men’s basketball team unveiled a super-sized defense that was scary good in Thursday night’s 87-63 exhibition victory against Division II Western Washington.
The Huskies flooded the court with a cadre of ball-hawking, long-limbed defenders who turned turnovers into highlight, fast-break finishes at the rim to overwhelm an overmatched Vikings team that gave UW fits three years ago.
“It’s really hard (on opposing teams) because we have so many people who can do so many different things,” said sophomore guard Jamal Bey, who finished with a game-high 20 points, including three three-pointers and five steals. “It’s like playing H-O-R-S-E.”
Freshman forwards Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels delivered satisfying performances in their much-anticipated home debuts in front of a crowd of 8,008. Stewart finished with a double-double (14 points and 11 rebounds) and three crowd-pleasing dunks while McDaniels tallied 13 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
“It felt like I was still in high school seeing them all around and everybody coming to support,” said McDaniels, the former Federal Way High star who had a sizable cheering section behind the UW bench. “It was like a dream to me, really.”
McDaniels’ dream proved to be a nightmare for Western Washington, which committed seven turnovers in the first seven minutes as the Huskies took control early and never relented.
“It’s kind of scary, really,” McDaniels said of UW’s defense. “Even practicing against us you’ve got to think twice because our arms are so long.”
UW’s first highlight started with a steal by Bey, who delivered the ball to Carter, who then dished to Stewart for a fast-break dunk and a 10-2 lead.
The sequence repeated itself minutes later when McDaniels swiped a pass in the corner and threw the ball ahead to Bey who found a streaking Stewart for another dunk in transition that pushed UW’s lead to 20-5.
“We just give it to (Stewart) and let him do what he does,” Bey said. “Destroy the rim.”
McDaniels added: “When he does it, it brings a lot of energy seeing how hard he dunks it. We all get excited for him.”
The Huskies also received 11 points and five assists from junior guard Nahziah Carter, who started in the backcourt next to sophomore Elijah Hardy, with Stewart, McDaniels and Hameir Wright up front.
“We did a lot of mixing and matching,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “I can play bigger guys and we can be huge, and I can play small lineups. I think we saw all of those different lineups tonight.”
The Huskies generated most of their offense with a tenacious defense that forced 22 turnovers, which led to 21 points.
The last time Western Washington visited Alaska Airlines Arena, the Vikings hung 103 points on the Huskies and nearly handed the home team an embarrassing early season setback.
Western Washington, which was picked first in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll and returns all five starters, had eyes on a upset considering UW’s recent struggles in exhibitions.
Two years ago, Washington trailed D-II Saint Martin’s by nine points (73-64) with 9:17 left before ending the game on a 27-14 run to escape with a 91-87 victory.
And last year, UW was down 47-46 with 9:09 remaining and needed a late rally to claim an unsatisfying 70-61 win over D-II Seattle Pacific last year.
However, if Thursday night’s outing is any indication, than this Washington team could surpass last season’s squad that won the Pac-12 regular-season title and finished 27-9 in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Washington jumped on the Vikings early and extended its lead to 46-23 at halftime and WWU never got closer than 19 points in the second half.
The Huskies pushed their lead to 30 points and emptied the bench in the final minutes.
Still, Hopkins wasn’t pleased with the Vikings’ proficiency from the perimeter. Trevor Jasinsky scored a team-high 19 points, including five 3-pointers for Western Washington, which converted 12 of 32 behind the arc. UW was 6 of 18 from long range.
Hopkins was also dismayed by UW’s 15-of-32 shooting at the free-throw line and a lethargic second-half showing, in which the Huskies outscored the Vikings 41-40.
“Last year, we did a really good job of taking away the three,” Hopkins said. “It’s still a learning process. I think the talent level is huge, but there’s still a lot of plays that we’re making that you can’t make in big games.
“I tell them I hate to be so tough for the way that I’m going to coach, but I’m going to coach you guys like you’re veterans and four-year players. That’s just the way it is.”
Washington opens the regular season Nov. 8 in the Armed Forces Classic against Baylor in Anchorage, Alaska.
— Freshman guard Marcus Tsohonis left the game in the first half after taking an inadvertent shot in the face from a Western Washington player. Hopkins said Tsohonis injured his mouth and was unable to return.