There’s a couple ways to look at developments Tuesday night at Alaska Airlines Arena and Basketball Blue Light Discard Table.
Either Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar was right in his pre-game claim that Seattle U was “the best 3-10 team in America,” or Montlake is a lot closer to South Dakota than anyone realized.
You may recall that on Dec. 18, Washington was beaten at home by a team so pleased with the triumph that it added a word to its name: South Dakota Freakin’ State.
For awhile Tuesday, the little Jesuit school down the road was Seattle Freakin’ Yoo.
In the end, Washington, through no particular effort of its own, let the Redhawks run out of shots, personal fouls and players, prevailing 91-83. The unexpected late-game drama was not only a local coming-out party for Seattle U. (4-11) but the creation of a real in-city rivalry — as long as you enjoy a game with 85 free throws.
It was a cringe of a contest, almost enough for football newcomer Austin Seferian-Jenkins to want to try out for a more genteel sport like track, or gymnastics, or something.
Seattle’s full-court press and aggressive inside play kept things much closer than in the previous three games since the series renewed. The tautness even produced some chippiness, with a technical foul, two flagrant fouls and multiple exchanges of unpleasant words.
The last laugh went to the Huskies, who had 59 free throws, two short of the school record that came two years ago against SU. They made 37, an unimpressive 62 percent, but enough. Ten of Washington’s final 13 points over the final 4:30 came from the line, and five Redhawks eventually fouled out, including two reserves.
Seattle might have been able to pull off the upset had it done better than 16 for 26 at the line, or capitalized on numerous Huskies’ mistakes.
“It was more of a mind-set than a strategy,” said Seattle’s coach, Cameron Dollar. “That’s how we play. We’re not going to come into this game and change. Nothing against them, but we thought this was doable four years ago.”
Despite Washington’s presumed advantage in talent, SU’s pressure forced Washington into a number of errors, including six turnovers by freshman Tony Wroten, who was out of control for stretches of game. But that’s the price Washington is willing to pay because he also scored 24 points, including 12 of 18 from the line, although one of the misses was an airball.
C.J. Wilcox scored 25 points, but he and Wroten each missed nine of 15 field goal attempts, clearly bothered by SU’s tactics.
“They really picked up their press in the second half,” Romar said. “In the first half we had great ball movement and we continued to improve in that way. Give Seattle U a lot of credit tonight — they had a great belief and that is what you have to have to win this game.
We watched them play quite a bit this year and I could have predicted that this was what the game was going to be like. It was a scrappy, hard fought, physical game. We anticipated that there would be a lot of fouls called.”
Nor was it a surprise to the Huskies players.
“Thats Dollar,” said Abdul Gaddy. “Thats how he coaches, thats the type of player he was. We knew coming into the game this was going to be a physical game.”
With their tallest starter 6-foot-7, SU had no answer for seven-footer Aziz N’Diaye, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds — after 15 and 10 in the same game a year ago. But Washington couldn’t do much with Seattle’s leading scorer, 6-5 senior Aaron Broussard, a bruising Pac-12-caliber guard who had 20 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes.
Only four miles apart geographically, the schools were four light years apart in hoops talent. Until Tuesday.
“From day one (of Seattle’s return to Division I basketball), you knew that each year the score would be getting closer and closer,” Romar said. ” Next year we have to go back to their place. I imagine it will be a hard-fought game. I would think the way our teams play every year that it is going to be a hard fought battle.”
As South Dakota Freakin’ State established, nothing is to be assumed with this year’s Huskies.