A little over 48 hours after dismissing seven-foot center Robert Upshaw from the program, the Huskies fell 84-74 to Stanford at Alaska Airlines Arena in a game that never felt as close as the final score. Afterward, Washington’s focus was on incremental improvement.
It’s going to take time for the Huskies defend the way they need to minus the presence of Upshaw patrolling the middle. On offense, a new five-man rotation is learning how to play with one another.
Anthony Brown scored a game-high 23 points, Chasson Randle added 20 points and Stefan Nastic had 17 points to lead Stanford (15-5, 6-2) to its ninth win in its last 11 games. Nigel Williams-Goss scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but had six turnovers to go with his seven assists in the Huskies’ second consecutive loss.
Upshaw’s absence was felt immediately in the double-digit defeat to Stanford Wednesday night. Nearly three weeks ago, Washington (14-6, 3-5) gave Stanford all it could handle before succumbing 68-60 in overtime in Palo Alto. On this night, the disparity between the two teams was apparent from the opening tip. After gaining possession, Mike Anderson missed the Huskies first shot attempt and Nastic, the Cardinal center, easily walled off Shawn Kemp Jr. off for the defensive rebound.
On the other end, Nastic knocked down a 14-foot jump shot as Kemp offered little resistance. The front-court battle grew more lopsided as the game wore on.
“We were accustomed to guys having a tough time once they got to the rim,” Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar said. “But we don’t have that . . . so we’ve got to tighten up on the perimeter.”
Stanford built a 16-4 lead less than seven minutes into the game as Washington looked out of sync. A sequence of five turnovers in seven possessions didn’t help matters and a veteran Cardinal squad took advantage. Nastic and Marcus Allen scored four of Stanford’s 10 points off turnovers in the half.
A 12-7 run over a four-minute span late in the half helped the Huskies close to 29-24 with 2:06 remaining in the first half, but it was their last real threat. Stanford closed the half with a 36-24 lead and quickly extended it to 20 when play resumed in the second half.
Employing a new four-guard lineup in the absence of Upshaw and fellow starting forward Jernard Jarreau, the Huskies shot 9-for-26 from the field in the first half, or 34.6 percent. On the other end, Stanford shot 55.6 percent from the field en route to 53 percent for the game.
With Stanford leading 57-31 with a little over 13 minutes remaining, Romar began to tinker with his five-man lineup. After playing a four-guard lineup with either Kemp or reserve center Gilles Dierickx up front to defend Nastic, Romar opted for a small, five-guard lineup over the final 10 minutes. It fared well for a time with Nastic on the bench with four fouls and could offer a glimpse of the new-look Huskies heading into February.
“That last couple minutes . . . (I) had just a little epiphany that we can play like this,” Washington junior guard Andrew Andrews said. “Everybody fast tempo, up in the (passing) lanes denying, (playing) pressure defense. Just because we have the quickness and the players that are able to do it.”
Washington had one practice between the time it dismissed Upshaw Monday until it played Stanford Wednesday. Improvement happens with repetition.
“We’ve just got to practice,” Andrews added. “We only really had one day of practice to come in and prepare.
“We’ve never even had (these) combinations in practice. Just combining and getting comfortable with each other . . . it’s all a part of in-game chemistry.”
Washington’s leader believes the team has it in them.
“Rob didn’t play 40 minutes,” Williams-Goss said. “We used to start games without Rob. So we know how to play (without him) . . . What we’re capable of doing, we can do going forward.”
It will have three days to prepare for its rematch with Cal Sunday.