Hands on hips, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar was forced into a rarity.
As European imports are wont to do, Portland’s Nemanja Mitrovic was shooting the Pilots back into the game. Corner 3-pointer, wing 3-pointer. Luke Sikma followed with a score. Washington’s lead was boiled down to 68-60. Then the break.
It was the first counter-punch Washington experienced since returning from the three-game Maui tournament against formidable opposition. Part of an extensive test of leverage by Portland during the Huskies’ 94-72 non-conference win Monday night at Hec Ed.
Sunday night, Romar discussed managing against Portland’s precision. Collapse, and Mitrovic or Jared Stohl will punish. Be lazy out top, the Pilots will saunter through the back door. Worthy fears.
Couple that with Portland’s intent to slow the game when possible, and it proved a moderate threat.
Following the timeout, a 26-12 run to the end of the game exemplified Washington’s ability to manage in the half-court against a team of Portland’s style. It was much more of a challenge to do so in Maui against Michigan State and even Kentucky.
Yet, it’s a step for the 21st-ranked Huskies (6-2). The Pilots pushed for a grounded game, flashing backcourt traps and swapping zone for man-to-man, then back again. In a quiet building — the attendance claim was 9,425 — the process began to work. Portland scored following Washington’s timeout, pulling within six.
But the Huskies changed the flow. The dripping faucet was opened full, and it appeared Washington would exceed 100 points for the fifth time this season.
The alteration came from wanted staples: defense and rebounding. The latter is still lagging. Isaiah Thomas led Washington with seven rebounds. Sikma had 16 for Portland, which was out-rebounded by a mere four. Dunks on breaks are aesthetically pleasing and lead those in the know pointing out how that big man runs. It carries reduced value when a center’s run starts toward the top of the key while others fight for rebounds.
Will the Washington big men hear about Thomas’ proficient rebounding from Romar or the short stack?
“Probably both,” Romar said.
Scott Suggs left the bench to deliver crucial 3-pointers. His first of the evening yanked the lead back to nine. He tacked on another to make it 13. One more jumper elevated it to 17 with 5:45 remaining. Goodnight, everybody.
The junior reinforced the value of Romar’s pot-luck bench. The coach is bound to find something good there this season. C.J. Wilcox played well again. Terrence Ross scored five points in four minutes before leaving with a stress reaction on the outside of his right calf. The injury placed the freshman on the bench for the rest of the evening, though it is not long-term according to Romar.
Odd to hear a coach upbeat about second-half slippage that led to a temporarily tight game against an inferior opponent. Such was the case for Romar.
“It was great,” Romar said. “It’d be great if we could win every game by 30 points, but that’s not reality.”
Portland’s machinations had slight effect. Washington navigated through the slowdown, eventually able to overwhelm with athleticism and discipline.
“What they’re trying to do is lull you to sleep,” Romar said. “What we don’t want to do is get caught up into what they’re trying to do. By the indication of the score, we didn’t allow that to happen.”