PULLMAN – The Washington Huskies foul too much. They don’t shoot the ball very well. They make too many turnovers. They lack size, experience and consistent defensive play.
You know what else the Huskies lack? Fear. Not to mention defeats in Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball.
The Huskies, apparently too young and naïve to know they’re not supposed to be alone in first place, rallied from a halftime deficit for the third consecutive game to win an overtime thriller at Washington State Saturday afternoon. All three of Washington’s conference games have been decided by four points or less. Two required overtime.
Senior guard Andrew Andrews, the lone non-freshman starting for the Dawgs, seemed almost apologetic after Washington’s latest bit of wizardry produced a 99-95 win.
“Once we get to the point where we start (giving up) leads and get eager to get more stops, we’ll do better,” Andrews promised.
Purple-shaded fans promise not to be too picky as long as Washington (11-4, 3-0 Pac-12) keeps winning, and Andrews keeps playing like a winner. On Saturday, the Pac-12’s leading scorer merely led the Huskies in points (29), rebounds (10) and assists (seven) in Washington’s first true road game.
“Andrews has done a fantastic job of leading a group of young guys,” Washington State coach Ernie Kent said. “His leadership is really, really evident on the floor.”
U-Dub coach Lorenzo Romar referred to Andrews as “the straw that stirs the drink . . . (he) was just phenomenal again today.”
Andrews missed a contested jumper at the end of regulation – he claims he was fouled – but he clinched the game by nailing two free throws with 3.4 seconds left in overtime. The Cougars faltered at the free-throw line at the end of the second half and in overtime.
“It’s hard to lose games on free throws,” WSU star Josh Hawkinson said.
Hawkinson saw no need to add that it hurts even more to lose to the Washington team he worshiped when growing up in suburban Seattle. The Huskies and virtually every other NCAA Division I team ignored Hawkinson’s impressive numbers at Shorewood High School, but Hawkinson piled up 21 points and a career-high 20 rebounds in the latest in a long line of outstanding performances for the Cougars. Ike Iroegbu led WSU with a career-high 28 points.
Washington could certainly use the 6-foot-10 Hawkinson’s size and soft shooting touch, but Hawkinson lacks the athleticism of so many of the young Huskies. Washington’s freshmen are so talented – Dejounte Murray scored 13 points in the first seven minutes Saturday and finished with 25 points and seven assists – Romar won’t admit to being surprised his team is 3-0 in the Pac-12.
“I said one day we’re going to get it,” Romar said. “I didn’t know when we would get it, and we still haven’t gotten it yet. But because of our effort and because of our belief and our guys play together and stick together, we’re just able to get by enough until we continue to get better.
“And,” the coach added, “I think this team will continue to get better.”
The Huskies improved to 5-0 in games decided by six points or less despite committing 30 fouls and having four players (including three starters) foul out. Washington ranks among the most whistled teams in the nation, and the Huskies ranked last in the Pac-12 with 15.1 turnovers per game before coughing it up just eight times in 45 minutes Saturday.
More trouble points: The Huskies blew a 10-point lead late in regulation, and they shot better than 39.7 percent from the field (46.6) for just the second time in six games. Washington State shot 50.8 percent against the Huskies, who are giving up 91 points per game in the Pac-12.
And yet … they’re undefeated in league play.
“Our guys are pretty resilient,” Romar said. “I think our guys come from backgrounds, a lot of them, where they won games. They’ve been winners. They’re accustomed to winning games, they’re accustomed to knowing what it takes.”
Romar echoed Kent in praising the play of both teams. The coaches also found time to throw a verbal bouquet at one another.
“He’s got them believing,” Romar said. “There’s no doubt about it. Those guys play with a lot of confidence, and we knew coming in that Washington State was a dangerous team.”
Kent returned the compliment, saying, “For that young team to play as well as they played in this environment, that’s a credit again to Lorenzo and how he coaches that young group of guys.”
The game drew just 4,025 – most WSU students remain out of town on holiday break – but Kent said the atmosphere was “fantastic” at Beasley Coliseum. Not as fantastic as Kent would have viewed the atmosphere after a Cougars win, but fantastic nonetheless, according to Kent.
“The roar in the building was there,” Kent said.
Kent nursed along a team with seven newcomers (including injured center Valentine Izundu) by stacking WSU’s non-conference schedule with plenty of home games against suspect opponents. The Cougars (9-6, 1-2) have played just one true road game – a loss eight miles away at Idaho – but nine of WSU’s 15 remaining Pac-12 games are on the road, starting Thursday at Arizona State.
Romar also eased his new players into the season with a Charmin-soft schedule heavy on home dates, but the Huskies must tackle seventh-ranked Arizona Thursday in Tucson. If Romar and his players are the least bit intimidated, they’re not showing it. After all, they have a bevy of gifted freshmen to go with one of the premier scorers in college basketball.
As Romar points out, “When you have Andrew Andrews leading the way, who’s been in big games, then he can kind of give the calm to the storm and give the guys a lot of confidence that we can pull it out.”