LOS ANGELES It was ugly. Really ugly. But a very big road win.
Washington opened Pac-10 basketball play with a grinding 73-67 overtime win against staunch USC Wednesday night.
For the Huskies, this kind of game would have been a loss last year, and often in previous years. The brutish nature of the game — 63 free throws were attempted and 69 shots were missed — countered everything that is dear to Washington.
In a night of big numbers, the smallest was most telling: Zero. No fast-break points for the run-now-and-often Huskies. Zero fast-break points on the road, in conference play, against an opponent blessed with a large front line.
“This was such a big game because this team represented everything that’s difficult for us and we were able to get behind and come back and win the game,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “But I was very anxious to see how we would play against this team. I feel like if we can play against this type of team, now we’re going to be OK.”
Overtime mimicked the game-long, foul-and-be-fouled style of the game. Washington salted the game away on the free throw line. Thirteen of of their 18 overtime points came from the line. Venoy Overton, in his typical live-and-die fashion, hit six. He did miss two, yet came away with the rebound off his second miss.
Overton again influenced play with the walls closing in on Washington. He finished just 1-for-5 from the field, but scored 11 points and snatched six rebounds, the majority coming in the closing moments of the game.
“If Venoy is still injured and doesn’t play tonight, we don’t come up with the victory,” Romar said.
Put freshman Ross into that statement. He exemplified Washington’s depth on a night that it dealt with foul and health troubles. Justin Holiday, who had an ice pack on his foot postgame, said he was in pain, but will play Friday, was coming back from a sprain. C.J. Wilcox was out with a staph infection in his right hip.
The Trojans put their best defender, 6-foot-6 Marcus Simmons, on Isaiah Thomas. That left mites like 6-foot Jio Fontan or 5-7 Maurice Jones to guard the 6-6 Ross. He dragged them into the post, then simply jumped above. It helped that Ross also aligned four 3-pointers, including a heat-check, corner 3 swish that would have put him on an express route to the bench had he not hit it and under different circumstances.
But he did. It was that kind of night for Ross.
“Today, it just kind of came early,” Ross said. “When I committed, (to UW), I definitely imagined myself playing SC and going off, but I never really thought I would have this opportunity. I knew if I would have this opportunity, I would try to seize it.”
The second half was punch for counter-punch. The game clock dwindled into the final seconds as Thomas, who struggled throughout, sought to break the tie at 55 with a game-winner. He ran a screen-and-roll with Bryan-Amaning. Thomas 3-point attempt was off, and overtime was on.
Brutal-ball started early. Washington clanged its way to a 16-4 deficit. Three-pointers, shots in the lane, midrange all found different portions of the rim. The Huskies bumbled away the first 10 minutes of the game. Washington was stumped in the half-court, turning the ball over, then unresponsive on defense.
The Trojans took the free dunks and slowed play. USC ran a series of dribble hand-offs out top, a cute version of a stall technique, in hope defenders will eventually lose discipline. It worked for awhile.
But Washington cleaned up its sets, finding some fast-break opportunities.
“As the game went on, we did get in the proper position,” Romar said. “I thought our guys did a great job of executing down the stretch when we wanted the ball to go somewhere and we got it to that person.”
In the first half, Washington rode Ross.
His consecutive 3-pointers pulled the Huskies within three, 19-16. His third trey of the half gave Washington (9-3) 8its first lead, 28-26, which it took into the locker room.
“It just shows we’re able to win on the road,” Holiday said. “That’s always been our problem, especially against SC. We started off bad, but it showed we’re maturing. It showed how good a team we can be when we play as a team and play right.”
The next chance to prove it is 1 p.m. Friday at UCLA. The Bruins beat Washington State 80-71 Wednesday. Wilcox is likely out for that one, as well.