Young teams, especially those debuting four new starters, aren’t supposed to be as poised as the Huskies were in the second half of their 67-64 comeback win over No. 16 Baylor.
But then again, most young teams don’t have budding stars like Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels and Nahziah Carter.
On a frigid Friday night in Anchorage, Alaska, the Washington trio displayed remarkable resilience to erase a 13-point deficit in the final nine minutes before surging ahead for good with a last-second shot.
It was an early statement win for Washington (1-0) and the Pac-12, which had routinely fallen flat in these kind of high-stakes games against nonconference opponents.
Unlike last season’s defeats against Gonzaga, Auburn, Virginia Tech and Texas A&M, the Huskies came out on top of a marquee matchup that’ll enhance their NCAA tournament resume.
Here are three observations.
UW can win with this defense
Mike Hopkins surely didn’t like losing the rebounding battle (35-33) and the Bears’ 12 offensive boards is a concern, but in every other defensive category the Huskies checked the box.
Baylor came into the game with a deadly perimeter attack that hit 18 three-pointers in its opener, but Washington held the Bears to 8-for-21 shooting behind the arc.
The Huskies limited Baylor to 34.5 percent shooting from the floor and kept the Bears off the free throw line where they made 10 of 12.
With the 6-foot-9 McDaniels at the top of the zone and ball-hawking forwards Hameir Wright (five blocks) and Stewart (three blocks patrolling the post, the Huskies negated the Bears’ inside attack and outscored them 30-14 in the paint.
UW’s best defensive lineup includes Jamal Bey and Carter at the top of the of the 2-3 zone with McDaniels, Stewart and Wright in the back. After falling behind 59-46 with 8:45 left, the Huskies leaned heavily on this lineup to dig out of their 13-point deficit.
Washington outscored Baylor 21-5 the rest of the way. UW also held BU without a field goal in the final 5:38 minutes.
Surprisingly, Hopkins changed tactics at the end and switched to a man-to-man defense on the final two defensive possessions to protect a slim lead.
On the first play, Wright stayed in front of Davion Mitchell who drove to the rim as Bey came over to double and force a short layup attempt that Carter rebounded. On the last play of the game, Wright again played solid defense on the perimeter on Jared Butler. With the clock expiring, MaCio Teague got the ball and hoisted a desperate 3-pointer over McDaniels that missed everything.
In the final 5½ minutes, Baylor went 0 for 12 from the field while missing five three-pointers, five layups and two mid-range jumpers. Washington also had two blocks and forced a turnover.
About those budding stars
Carter scored a game-high 23 points and hit 4 of 6 three-pointers, including 3-ball that tied the score at 64-64 with 1:38 left. Carter may have had an off night in last week’s exhibition, but tonight he showed he’ll probably lead UW in scoring while draining 8 of 15 field goals. His 3-for-6 performance at the free throw line is troublesome for someone who shot 63.8 percent last season. It must be noted that Carter could have iced the game with two freebies in the final 15 seconds, but he made 1 of 2.
During the ESPN telecast, analyst Jay Bilas gushed about McDaniels, who displayed all kinds of extraordinary gifts in his UW debut. McDaniels’ four turnovers were inconsequential on a night when the touted freshman forward finished with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists, including a pass out of the post to Carter for his game-tying 3. Aside from the turnovers, he was extremely efficient while canning 5 of 10 shots from the field, 1 of 3 behind the arc and 7 of 8 on free throws.
And Stewart came up clutch when it mattered most and made his first UW game a memorable one. The hyperactive forward drew double teams inside, which created space outside and opened driving lanes to the rim for teammates. Often times, Stewart’s offensive activity led to baskets or open shots for someone else. Tied 64-64, Stewart set a screen outside and darted inside with a defender pinned behind him. Wright delivered the pass inside and Stewart went up quickly with a soft jumper the bounced around the rim before falling in with 30 seconds left. It was the biggest basket in the game for Stewart, who had 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting, seven rebounds and two assists in 36 minutes.
Kentucky transfer Quade Green also made his UW debut and had a miserable night shooting while misfiring on 6 of 7 shots. However, he delivered 9 assists in 32 minutes.
Also, Wright showcased an improved jump shot while connecting on 2 of 3 from deep. It’s an important shot the Huskies, who ideally would love to surround Stewart with four knock-down shooters.
Aside from Bey, Hopkins didn’t have much use for the bench, which was outscored 17-3.
Get ready for a thrill ride
It remains to be seen if Baylor is the second-best team in the Big 12 or a Final Four contender, but Washington beat a veteran Bears team that’ll likely finish the season in the NCAA tournament.
And truth be told, the Huskies didn’t play very well.
They were down for 36½ minutes and led for just 1:42 minutes.
Washington looked nervous and out of sync early on, which might explain its 20 turnovers. The Huskies never got into transition and had just 2 fastbreak points.
Again, UW debuted four new starters and the ceiling is extremely high for this young team comprised of just one senior.
Imagine how dynamic the duo of McDaniels and Stewart will be after 10-12 games. Carter, who had a quiet 23 points, will likely get more comfortable and confident in a new role that gives him more minutes and shots than ever before. Green might be a defensive liability against big teams, but he’s a better shooter than he displayed tonight and his nine assists are the most by a UW player since Markelle Fultz had nine two years ago.
Still not sure how deep Hopkins will stretch the rotation. Understandably, he wants the trio of Carter, McDaniels and Stewart on the floor as much as possible and they each logged over 33 minutes. Looks like freshman guard RaeQuan Battle has fallen out of the rotation while freshman guard Marcus Tsohonis, who injured his mouth in the exhibition, did not dress. Both could be candidates to redshirt.