Hannah Johnson’s 16 points were one shy of her career high as UW beat visiting Cal State Fullerton, 83-74.
The Washington Huskies’ search for a scorer to complement star guard Amber Melgoza uncovered a few intriguing options in Thursday’s season opener.
Not surprisingly, Melgoza, the Pac-12’s second-leading scorer last season, tallied a team-high 18 points as UW pulled away from Cal State Fullerton in the fourth quarter for an 83-74 non-conference victory at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“Learning how to win is so important,” coach Jody Wynn said. “We didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish a lot games last year. We would be up and then we’d lose at the end.
“The very last game (a 71-68 defeat to California in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament) still sits heavy with those girls.”
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Last year’s opener, a 79-59 blowout loss at home to Idaho State, also served as motivation, the second-year coach said.
“They understand what happened in our first game last year,” Wynn said. “They wanted to come out with the win. An ugly win, we’ll take over a pretty loss.”
There’s no undervaluing the importance of a victory for a team that endured the most defeats and fewest wins in school history last season when they posted a 7-23 record.
And yet, snapping their 11-game losing streak seemed secondary to a stellar performance from a rebuilt offense that ranked 10th in the conference in scoring last season.
The Huskies discovered alternate options to go along with Melgoza on a night when UW scored the second most points under Wynn in a regulation game.
“It’s an amazing feeling to know that you can pass it in the corner and they’ll knock it down,” said Melgoza who shot 5 of 13 from the field, 1 of 5 on three-pointers and went 7 for 8 on free throws. “If we get a rebound, we know that person down low can finish.
“It’s trust. Trust is the main thing and think we’ve finally found that.”
To that end, Hannah Johnson’s 16 points — one shy of her career high — were a welcome sight for the Huskies.
“I was super anxious,” said the fifth-year senior forward who went 0 for-4 on three-pointers in the first period. “I was nervous. I don’t know why. I think it’s because this is my last first home game. This is my senior year.
“It sunk in today that this is my last year of playing and I thought about that a lot.”
Once the nervousness subsided, Johnson went to work beneath the rim where she collected a team-high 10 rebounds.
“Once (Titans 6-foot-3 senior center Daeja Smith) went out, coach looked at me and she said eat because nobody could really guard me in there beside her,” said Johnson, who sank 7 of 11 shots in the paint. “When she went out I knew it was time to take over inside.”
Washington also received a significant offensive contribution from freshman guard Haley Van Dyke, who finished with 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting in her collegiate debut.
Junior guard Mai-Loni Henson added 10 points for the Huskies (1-0).
Washington led 42-39 at halftime and fell behind 52-49 midway in the third quarter. The Huskies finished the period with a 17-8 run and led 66-60 at the start of the fourth.
Cal State Fullerton (1-1), which received a game-high 22 points from Smith and 20 from guard Raina Perez, never pulled closer than four points in the final period.
“This is a new team and a new year,” Melgoza said. “Several of those games last year we let slip away, but tonight we played four quarters and that’s what it takes.
“It might have been an ugly win, but that’s OK.”
The Huskies bemoaned a 6-for-24 performance on three-pointers and a horrendous start when they missed 12 of their first 15 shots.
Still, Wynn was pleased that UW outrebounded Cal State Fullerton 41-32 and forced 19 turnovers that led to 11 points.
“Every game is a teachable moment,” Wynn said. “It’s Game 1. It wasn’t the prettiest for us, but they did a nice job.”
Washington hosts Northern Arizona at 2 p.m. Sunday.