On most nights, the Washington Huskies will have a size advantage in the post due to their super-sized roster that includes six players who stand at least 6 feet 9.
Despite the presence of star freshman forwards Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, the Huskies (11-4, 1-1 Pac-12) haven’t always played like the bigger team.
But all that changed Sunday when Washington blocked 12 shots and held USC to just 20% shooting on field goals during a runaway 72-40 victory at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“We were showing our length and people felt our size for the first time in a long time,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “That’s just something we started emphasizing in practice.”
Hopkins credited McDaniels and junior guard Nahziah Carter for leading the defensive charge against the Trojans.
McDaniels finished with a career-high six blocks — two shy of the UW record — while Carter had four.
“We didn’t want to allow certain guys to shoot threes, but then on the flip side when the ball got inside because they’re so big, J-Mac and Naz, we were going in and we were moving,” Hopkins said.
It was a bounce-back game for McDaniels, who fouled out after just 13 minutes in the previous outing in which he received a technical foul while sitting on the bench.
The enigmatic freshman collected a flagrant-1 foul after he tangled with USC’s Nick Rakocevic, which led to both players crashing to the floor while battling for a loose ball. But this time, McDaniels avoided foul trouble and overcame a 3-for-12 shooting performance to register his most impressive defensive performance of the season.
“He was doing what he’s supposed to do, but he was doing what he’s supposed to do better,” Hopkins said. “He was locked in. … He gets frustrated a lot with himself. He didn’t let that affect his — what? His defense.
“And that’s part of the maturing process.”
Protect the ball
Hopkins is stressing ball security when Washington plays at Stanford on Thursday considering the Cardinal is led defensively by junior guard Daejon Davis and freshman guard Tyrell Terry, who each average 1.9 steals to rank in the Pac-12’s top five.
“This weekend, we’ve got to handle the ball,” Hopkins said, noting UW’s 14.9 turnovers per game that ranks 10th in the conference. “There’s no getting around that. That’s been every game for us where we can be better.”
Stanford (12-2, 1-0) just might be the most overlooked team in the Pac-12 considering its only losses have been to No. 11 Butler (by one point on a neutral court) and No. 3 Kansas.
“This is a team that no one is talking about,” Hopkins said. “This team is really, really good, they’re very well-coached and it’s going to be a great challenge.”
Hopkins supports Wright
In his last outing, Hameir Wright played a season-low 13 minutes and the junior forward has struggled with his perimeter shot while shooting 27.8 percent on three-pointers.
Wright spent most of Sunday’s game on the bench due to the sudden emergence of backup forward Nate Roberts, who finished with seven points and seven rebounds.
However, Hopkins isn’t tinkering with the lineup and plans to stick with Wright, a two-year starter.
“We know how good he is,” Hopkins said. “On his best days, we become different. We just need to get him to his best days, and that comes back to coaching. But having another option is great.
“Hameir was so happy for Nate because he knows how hard he works, and that’s when you start to become a team. When it doesn’t matter. When it’s not about you, but it’s about our team and winning and being happy for somebody else who came in and maybe took some of your minutes because it was his night, that’s when you become a really great team.”
Hopkins blasted UW fans who have been overly critical of Wright, who is averaging 5.0 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 29 percent from the field.
“I remember when we had David Crisp and everybody started to become real negative on Twitter and social media about (him),” Hopkins said. “Hameir Wright has won more games here than anybody (with his) impact.
“Hameir Wright is an elite guy that’s struggling a little bit shooting the ball, but his defense, energy and leadership have been unmatched. Just like David, anybody can say whatever they want. I’m with him. Our team is with him.”