Regardless of who starts at point guard or if star freshman Jaden McDaniels would be available to play, Mike Hopkins had three directives for the slumping Huskies entering Thursday’s game against Oregon State.
Reduce their turnovers.
Make outside shots.
And defend the three-point line.
Check, check and check.
“It’s great to see you make threes and them not making threes,” the Husky basketball coach said, following a 64-56 victory over Oregon State. “It’s good to see you not having that many turnovers.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to our coaching staff. They’ve done an amazing job with these guys and keeping them calm and keeping them working. Getting them prepared.”
It would have been easy for the Huskies, who entered the game having lost four of their past five games, to continue a downward descent after discovering McDaniels wouldn’t be able to go. The dynamic freshman forward who is second on the team in points, rebounds, assists and blocks tweaked his left ankle last Saturday and hadn’t practiced this week.
McDaniels tested his ankle during pregame warmups and insisted he could play, but Hopkins held him out as a precaution and expects him to play Saturday against No. 8 Oregon.
“When I heard that J-Mac wasn’t playing, you’re kind of going, ‘Uh-oh, let’s see how we can do it,’ ” Hopkins said. “Next man up. Those guys, you saw what they did. I’m really proud of them.”
RaeQuan Battle, who replaced McDaniels in the lineup, learned that he was getting his first career start just two minutes before the game. And his reaction?
“I just repeated what coach said — ‘I’m starting?’ ” Battle said. “I’ve just got to take advantage of every opportunity, so I took advantage of it.”
Oregon State couldn’t have had much of a scouting report on Battle, considering he entered the game with just eight points for the season on 3-for-12 shooting. However, the 6-foot-5 sharpshooter, who set scoring records at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, provided an early spark while converting three of five three-point attempts for 11 points – all in the first half – and three steals.
“It just brought me back to high school,” Battle said. “Coming into college and not playing a long time, it messes with you. But Coach told me to be ready all year. As soon as I got in and the shots went in, I just said it’s my time. It’s our time.”
Battle’s blistering perimeter assault led Washington to a 31-21 advantage at halftime and forced Oregon State to expand its defense, which provided room inside for Isaiah Stewart, who scored 11 of his team-high 13 points in the second half.
“When we have another shooter out there on the floor they have to pick their poison,” said Stewart, who also had five rebounds and four blocks.
After draining his first two three-pointers, which would have been good from NBA range, the crowd of 8,207 at Alaska Arena Airlines rose in anticipate every time Battle touched the ball.
However, he didn’t attempt a shot during 6½ minutes of action in the second half.
It hardly mattered.
The Huskies (12-6, 2-3 Pac-12) received 11 points from Marcus Tsohonis and Jamal Bey, who made his second consecutive start at point guard, and 10 points from Nahziah Carter.
In their third game without point guard Quade Green, who is academically ineligible, the Huskies finally looked comfortable offensively under the direction of Bey and Tsohonis.
Washington finished with just eight turnovers, its second-fewest this season. The Huskies also converted 25 of 50 field goals and had 13 assists.
“Obviously it sucks not having Quade and Jaden, but … RaeQuan stepped up,” Stewart said. “Marcus stepped up. These guys are ready. We work hard in practice, and they were ready for it.”
Washington, which entered the game ranked 255 out of 350 Division I teams in three-point shooting, converted 9 of 22 shots from beyond the arc.
At the other end, the Huskies shored up a perimeter defense that was ranked eighth in the Pac-12 and held the Beavers to just 2-of-12 on three-pointers.
Oregon State (12-3, 2-3) received a game-high 16 points from Kylor Kelley, while Tres Tinkle converted just 2 of 12 field goals and finished with 15 points.
Washington also held Ethan Thompson to just six points, 10 below his season average.
“We were really aware of their sets and how they tried to get (Tinkle and Thompson) the ball,” Hopkins said. “We talked about how important it was the defend the 3-point line and I thought they did that tonight. A lot of awareness.”