The Huskies were expected to overpower a Yale team that entered the game without its best player, point guard Makai Mason, who broke his foot last week.
It’s difficult to spot all trends after one game, but the trouble with the Huskies’ defense can be traced to their final two games of last season when they gave up at least 93 points.
When they surrendered 103 last week in an exhibition victory, coach Lorenzo Romar promised renewed effort to fix the defense.
However, the 98-90 defeat against Yale in the season opener for the Washington men’s basketball team Sunday showed fixing the defense won’t be easy.
Cal State Fullerton @ Washington, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
“We gave up a lot of points in the exhibition,” Romar said. “We gave up a lot of points here. But I think it’s something that we can resolve.”
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The Huskies tied a school record with 15 blocked shots, but otherwise the Huskies were outplayed in every other facet of the game.
And perhaps more troubling, they were a step slower and less aggressive than their Ivy League counterpart who dominated them on the glass. Yale won the rebound battle 42-29, including a 21-4 dominance in offensive boards.
“There’s no doubt they were the more physical team,” Romar said. “And there’s no doubt they were quicker to the ball. I think that’s indicative of the score and the stat sheet.”
Sophomore guard Matisse Thybulle of UW was more blunt in his assessment.
“Just lack of effort,” he said. “Lack of heart. We just weren’t crashing hard enough. We weren’t trying to be physical. They hit us first and we just stopped.”
The Huskies squandered a sensational debut from freshman Markelle Fultz, who finished with 30 points on 11-for-17 shooting. He also had seven rebounds and six assists to offset three turnovers in 36 minutes.
“I was just ready to play,” Fultz said. “I was focused on the game. I didn’t worry about anything else or anybody. Just trying to get a W.”
Fultz and Thybulle, who scored a career-high 20, combined for 50 points.
But the offense hasn’t been the problem for the Huskies. They beat Division II Western Washington 109-103 in the exhibition.
Against Yale, Washington shot 58.9 percent from the field and converted 40 percent (8 of 20) of its three-pointers. The Huskies also got 12 points each from David Crisp and backup forward Noah Dickerson.
“It’s not really about the points,” Fultz said. “It’s who gets the most stops. We failed to do that tonight. We failed to get stops when we needed to.”
It was a consistent theme all night.
Yale’s meticulous offense picked apart UW’s pressure defense with backdoor cuts that led to open layups and pick-and-pop screens that resulted in open three-pointers.
It was a surprising display of offensive dominance from Yale considering its best player, point guard Makai Mason, suffered a season-ending broken foot last week.
The Bulldogs, defending champions of the Ivy League, also graduated three of its top four scorers from the team that advanced to the round of 32 in the 2016 NCAA tournament.
And yet, the Huskies had no answer for guard Miye Oni (24 points) and forwards Sam Downey (22) and Blake Reynolds (19).
“We gave up too much,” Thybulle said. “We’ve shown in the last exhibition game and this game that we can put up points but the moral of each game is that we just give up too much on the defensive end.”
The defeat spoiled Romar’s 58th birthday, but the UW coach is more concerned about correcting the Huskies’ defensive flaws before the game Thursday against Cal State Fullerton.