For Sunday, and perhaps the rest of the season, the Washington men’s basketball team adopted an axiom and a defensive-minded identity embodied by Franck Kepnang, which epitomized their 73-63 win over Colorado that included two momentum-swinging runs in the final minutes. 

“PLF was our motto today: Play like Franck,” senior guard Cole Bajema said. “That man is working every day so hard in practice and games. It’s just terrible to see him like that. We wrote on the board right before the game PLF: Play like Franck. He’s the one that works hard on our team.” 

Kepnang, who suffered a season-ending knee injury Thursday, sat on the sidelines, but his fingerprints were all over this game in which Washington held in check an explosive Colorado team that averaged 90.5 points during a pair of wins against ranked teams last month. 

“PLF: Play like Franck,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “He plays selfless. It’s tougher together. He’s the toughest guy when he plays. He’s the most selfless teammate.  

“When it gets hard, this team has shown a lot of resilience. It hasn’t always been pretty. There were a lot of moments today when you kind of scratch your head, but for the most part our guys keep coming at you. They show a lot of resiliency and a lot of pride. They found a way.” 

Deciphering the Huskies’ defense is akin to solving a Rubik’s Cube while wearing oven mitts. 


When there’s a path to the basket, PJ Fuller II steps in the way and draws a charge. When there’s an opening on the wing, Jamal Bey swipes a steal.  

UW men’s basketball will rely on small-ball lineup after losing Franck Kepnang

And at the middle of it all is 7-foot-1 Braxton Meah and his 7-foot wingspan who plays like a goalkeeper while patrolling the paint. 

At their best, Washington creates a web of lanky arms and sprawling legs that stifles opposing offenses like it did Sunday afternoon in their Pac-12 home opener in front of 7,261 at Alaska Airlines Arena. 

“We have the potential to be really elite,” Hopkins said when asked about a UW defense that ranks third in the Pac-12 in points allowed (63.9) and fourth in opponent’s field goal percentage (39.3%). 

“Our numbers are incredible on the defensive end,” Hopkins said. “The press helped us tonight in the first half. We started pressing. We got a steal and a basket. We got the crowd involved. That’s the one thing with this team. We got a lot of different options.” 


Speaking of options, Meah’s return from a one-game layoff due to an ankle injury offset Kepnang’s absence and at times the Fresno State transfer was the best player on the floor while accumulating a game-high-tying 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting, seven rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes. 

“He’s a huge piece to our team,” Bajema said. “He just brings so much, rebounding and physicality and buckets down low. He does so much for us.” 

Bajema also delivered plenty and is becoming a consistent offensive threat who finished with 16 points, including three three-pointers, and six rebounds in 38 minutes. It was the third straight game he’s scored in double digits. 

Keion Brooks Jr. added 14 points while Bey chipped in 12 points and a career-high-tying five steals for UW, which improved to 7-2 and 1-1 in the Pac-12. 

The Huskies led 33-26 at halftime and seemingly had things under control when they were up 50-34 with 13:20 left. 

However, that’s when Colorado resorted to a full-court press that sparked a 20-6 run, which cut UW’s lead to 56-54 at the 4:07 mark. 


“Colorado started ramping up pressure, and that’s what teams are going to do when they’re down,” Bajema said. “Credit to them, they played well doing that. We just got to try to stay composed on offense and [know] when to attack and when not to attack. Big props to them. They played really well and fought back, but our identity is we try to be the tougher team every day and I feel like we were.” 

Needing a basket, Fuller drove hard to the rim for a layup despite being fouled and his three-point play put UW up 59-54.  

Both teams traded three-pointers before Brooks powered up a layup that gave the Huskies a 64-59 lead with 1:19 remaining. 

The Buffaloes were down 67-63 with 30 seconds left and their press continued to give Washington fits, but when the Huskies avoided disaster in the back court they found Fuller for a fast-break dunk and went 4 of 4 on free throws in the final minute to end the game with a 6-0 UW run. 

The Huskies shot 50% from the field, including 7 of 19 on three-pointers, while the Buffaloes were 44.1% and 5 of 17 from long range. 

Colorado (4-5, 0-2), which received a game-high 15 points from J’Vonne Hadley, was held 10 points shy of its season average. 

“I don’t know if there’s an actual leader out there,” Hopkins said when asked about UW’s defense. “Jamal Bey was just phenomenal today with five steals in 26 minutes. He was really, really good. Braxton is going to keep getting better at it. Jackson [Grant] will keep getting better at it. Koren Johnson has a knack a little bit [like] Matisse Thybulle. He reads situations.  

“PJ Fuller, how about his run-down block today. There were couple of errors, but sometimes he takes an unbelievable charge. He runs down and blocks and those are the plays that change the momentum of games.” 


  • Sophomore Jackson Grant, who was planning to redshirt, made his season debut and finished with two rebounds in 10 minutes.