The Huskies are on top of the Pac-12, relying on the classic formula of a formidable defense and balanced offense. Nahziah Carter and Jaylen Nowell led the way in the win over Oregon State, UW's ninth in a row, improving to 7-0 in conference play.
Washington jumped on Oregon State early for a big lead and never let the Beavers back into the game before cruising to a 79-69 win on Saturday at Gill Coliseum.
It was the ninth straight victory for the Huskies who made a little bit of history while improving their Pac-12 record to 7-0 — their best conference start since the 1952-53 season when they began 14-0 in the league and advanced to the NCAA tournament Final Four.
Here are three impressions.
IT STARTS WITH DEFENSE
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Full disclosure, I hate zone defenses. Doesn’t matter if it’s a 2-3 zone, matchup zone or the Twilight Zone. I hate them all. Never liked it. Probably never will.
But that being said, Washington’s zone defense is a formidable weapon. It’s a real problem for opposing teams. And the Huskies are seemingly getting better on defense with each outing.
Before Saturday’s game, UW ranked 30th in the nation in scoring defense (64.5). It should come as no surprise that Syracuse, where coach Mike Hopkins spent 22 seasons prior to taking over at UW last year, is ranked 18th defensively while allowing 62.8 points.
During its nine-game winning streak, Washington has allowed just one team to score more than 70 points.
In seven Pac-12 games, the Huskies are allowing just 61.6 points. It must be noted, six of those teams rank in the bottom two-thirds of the conference in scoring. UW has yet to play three of the league’s top scoring teams (Arizona State, UCLA and USC).
Still, Washington presents a litany of problems with its defense and it starts with the perimeter defenders. Pac-12 opponents are shooting a league-low 29.2 percent on three-pointers against UW.
Hopkins often notes, “twos can’t hurt us.”
If not for Stephen Thompson Jr., who had 30 points and six three-pointers, Oregon State had no one who could make a shot behind the arc.
SHARE THE ORANGE
There were several games earlier in the season when Washington’s offense bogged down and the Huskies managed to win simply because they had better players who used their superior offensive skills to make one-on-one plays.
Heck, that’s how UW won at Colorado and Utah where it had nine and eight assists, respectively.
In capturing their second straight conference road sweep, the Huskies are moving and sharing the ball better than they had all season.
During Thursday’s 61-56 win at Oregon, Washington finished with a season-high 18 assists on 22 field goals while shooting 55 percent from the floor.
On Saturday, Washington shot a season-high 58.3 percent on field goals (28 of 48). The Huskies also had 15 assists. Five UW players had at least two assists, which was also a season high.
OK NAZ, WHAT’S NEXT?
Last season, Nahziah Carter ran around – often uncontrollably – as if his hair was on fire, but was still randomly productive while driving to the rim and often finishing with spectacular dunks.
This season, the backup guard seemed as if he’s been taking cues from teammate Jaylen Nowell and developed a smooth mid-range pull-up jump shot.
Carter, a 6-foot-6 and 205-pound sophomore, has all the athletic gifts and work ethic to be special. He has an explosive 44-inch vertical leap, an even-keel temperament and a burning desire to be exceptional.
And Saturday, it was all on display as he scored a career-high tying 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field in 31 minutes off the bench.
The Huskies are fortunate to have capable scorers on the sideline.
The previous week, backup guard Dominic Green came off the bench and finished with 17 points and four three-pointers to lead UW to a 71-52 win over California.
Green is a long-range sniper whereas Carter pummeled Oregon State with four in-your-face highlight dunks that sent the Beavers reeling.
“Shame on us for not being tougher,” OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said.
Carter is expanding his offensive repertoire and seemingly the only things missing are a reliable perimeter shot. Last season, he shot 40.9 percent (18 of 44) on three-pointers. But this season, he’s down to 29.4 percent (10 of 34).
Carter could also improve a 66.0 percent free throw percentage. And if we’re nitpicking, he needs to improve his passing skills.
But that’s a task for another day.
For now, Carter is honing his skills as an incredible scorer who finishes plays in spectacular fashion. Exhibits A, B, C, D below.