The baseline seats at Alaska Airlines Arena should be sold with a disclaimer that reads: Warning! Beware of flying projectiles.
The projectiles – or in this case basketballs – were launched into the stands with rapid frequency Sunday night courtesy of the Huskies, who built a wall around the basket and made it nearly impossible for USC to score in the paint.
With Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Stewart and Nate Roberts comprising an imposing NBA-worthy front line, Washington rebounded from a two-game skid and captured a much-needed 72-40 romp for its first Pac-12 win of the season.
The 32-point blowout was UW’s most lopsided conference win since crushing California 109-77 on Feb. 10, 2011.
“It was our night,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “Unfortunately for them it wasn’t.”
The Huskies (11-4, 1-1 Pac-12) had spent the previous two days seething from a 66-64 upset loss to UCLA on Thursday and were intent on making a statement against red-hot USC (12-3, 1-1), which had a six-game winning streak.
“Two different teams,” sophomore point guard Quade Green said. “Y’all see a 30-point win today and the loss to UCLA. We should have never lost that game. We had to come out and lay one on them today.”
The pregame hype was dominated by a much-anticipated matchup between Stewart and USC’s big man, Onyeka Okongwu.
However, the battle between the star freshman forwards never truly materialized because Stewart spent most more than nine minutes of the first half on the bench in foul trouble.
“Every game I’ve made this year, they’ve gotten the third one,” Hopkins said when asked if he considered letting Stewart play with two fouls. “So I was like, I’m not gambling on this one. … That’s when you know you have a great bench when you can put guys in and still win.”
Normally, a prolonged absence from UW’s leading scorer and rebounder would be disconcerting, but not this time.
Not with Roberts, a sparsely used redshirt freshman, filling in and delivering a near-perfect impersonation of the broad-shouldered Stewart.
There was Roberts flying down the lane and soaring for a one-handed dunk.
There he was again rising over traffic for a rebound and putback jam.
And Roberts capped an entertaining first-half performance with a punishing flush that brought the near sellout crowd of 8,774 to its feet.
“It felt great to finally get my opportunity to prove what I’ve been working on and what we’ve been working on in practice every day,” said Roberts, who scored all of his personal-best seven points in the first half. “I give all the credit to my guys finding me in certain spots and being able to bring energy and the spark in the game.”
Washington, which began the game with a 10-1 run, took a 35-21 lead into halftime thanks in large part to Roberts, who also had seven rebounds.
“He likes contact,” Hopkins said. “You have another guy who can go out there and be physical. Has a nose for the ball. He definitely had a huge impact in the game tonight.”
Roberts kept the Huskies afloat until Stewart returned in the second half and scored 12 of his game-high 18 points after the break. He also finished with 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double performance.
McDaniels had 11 points, seven rebounds and six blocks, which was two shy of a team record.
“He was all over the place,” Hopkins said. “He was frustrated because he missed some foul shots and some easy ones early, but the biggest thing we keep telling these guys is you don’t have control of making or missing shots. What you do have control is how smart you play and how hard you play.
“He impacted the game. … He was flying. The ball got down low and you didn’t see anything. It was hard to finish around the basket.”
With Stewart, McDaniels and Roberts dominating in the paint, the Huskies finished with a season-high 12 blocks and held USC to a season-low 20% shooting from the field, including 2 of 15 on three-pointers.
It was a defensive masterpiece for Washington, which also forced 21 turnovers and collected a season-high 14 steals.
“You can’t get nothing down low,” said Green, who tallied 14 points, five assists and four steals. “You’re going to have to shoot that 15-footer at the free-throw line. That’s probably what you’re going to get. You’re not going to get too much down there and not too many second chances any more.”
Okongwu, who finished with a team-high 10 points and nine rebounds, sank a put-back to cut USC’s deficit to 12 points (41-29) with 16:38 left.
That’s when Washington answered with an 11-0 run to deliver an early knockout. Jamal Bey flushed a fast break dunk to cap the spurt and give the Huskies a 52-39 lead with 10:32 left.
Washington led by as many as 35 points in the final minutes when Hopkins emptied the bench.
“We didn’t get it done,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We turned the ball over, missed easy shots, missed free throws. Probably the worst offensive performance I’ve been involved in as a coach and I take the blame for it.
“We wanted to attack the zone through the middle and we just couldn’t finish our shots and it snowballed on us.”
USC’s 40 points were the fewest by a UW opponent in a conference game since the Huskies’ 50-40 win over Oregon State on Feb. 10, 1996.
“We had to make a statement today,” Green said. “We can’t lose twice on our home floor.”