For the basketball connoisseur, the taking of a charging foul is a sly, tasty morsel of the game, not something fated to take the top off an arena. But as the season’s first sellout was ready to rock Hec Ed Saturday afternoon, Sam Timmins executed a flop that popped rivets in the old barn.
“That,” Timmins said with a huge grin, “was a moment three years in the making.”
The Huskies were up 49-39 on the way to, in what must be said fairly in this startling season for Washington, a routine win over UCLA 69-55, when 6-9 Bruins forward Cody Riley backed down in the low post against Timmins.
The 6-11 junior from New Zealand is the unathletic big guy who gets no breaks from officials anytime there’s collisions under the basket. By default, it has to be his fault.
“I’m so big, no (ref) believes that I can get knocked down,” he said with a large grin. “But everybody keeps telling me, ‘Take a charge! Take a charge!'”
This time, upon contact, Timmins launched himself backward and landed on his butt. Foul — on Riley. Shocked, Timmins tossed up his hands and beamed toward the Washington bench, which erupted with cheers, laughs and waving towels.
Had former NBA magnum flopper Vlade Divac been there, he would have put down his three cigarettes and wept. It was that majestic.
Simmons got up to mad hoots from the crowd, jogged to the bench and accepted high-fives from all of his teammates.
“I finally did it,” he said,” and it worked.”
The moment was more than entertainment.
It loomed large because earlier, the Huskies’ only other post player, Noah Dickerson, had to be helped off the court after spraining his right ankle. It appeared to be the first serious injury in an otherwise gold-plated year for Washington (18-4), winners of 11 in a row, including 9-0 halfway through the Pac-12 Conference season.
In the previous game, a 75-62 win over USC Wednesday, Timmins played two minutes. Now suddenly he had to be the man inside.
Or as his coach, Mike Hopkins, put it: “A rock star . . . he was unbelievable.”
In a season-high 24 minutes, Timmins dunked three times, made all three of his free throws, blocked three shots, had six rebounds and played UCLA’s 7-1 freshman center, Moses Brown, to a standstill (nine points, seven boards).
Hopkins was pleased that Timmins stayed engaged despite nearly a DNP against the Trojans.
“A lot of people would complain, not practice hard — it’s the nature of our culture,” Hopkins said. “Sam is all about the team. It was a great lesson. You might not play the minutes you think, but don’t let it discourage you. You gotta work and get better.”
That would be imperative for Timmins, because Dickerson, who played 14 minutes and had three points and six boards, looks like he’ll be out awhile. Unable to bear weight on his ankle, he had to be helped to the locker room.
He came back to the bench for the second half. Hopkins tried to play down the severity.
“I think he’ll be fine,” he said. “A little ankle sprain.”
However long it takes, the Huskies have to make do, probably through the games next week at Arizona Thursday and Arizona State Saturday. A year ago, the Huskies had a late swoon after a strong start, losing five of their final eight regular-season games and getting bounced from the Pac-12 tournament in the first round.
This year, Hopkins sees a team with three senior starters (Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle and David Crisp) as savvier and more poised. Saturday, amped by a full house and an ESPN audience, the Huskies turned over the ball five times in the first six possessions to allow UCLA (12-10, 5-4) a 12-4 lead. Hopkins called a timeout.
“The crowd was incredible, and we were a little excited,” Hopkins said. “We just had to calm down. We just had to hit singles. Don’t have to hit a grand slam.”
They did, closing the first half with an 8-2 run for a 31-23 lead. The defense forced a whopping 18 turnovers by intermission, which helped hold UCLA 25 points below its per-game average.
Hopkins is perhaps most proud of the fact that his rotation goes nine-deep with players good enough to start.
“When different guys come off the bench, we sometimes get better on defense,” he said. “That’s huge. They bring an different energy and look.”
Timmins is nowhere near the athlete that Dickerson is, which doesn’t mean the Huskies don’t have ways to work around his temporary absence. Hopkins didn’t say who would replace Dickerson, but Timmins seems destined for more time because he messes up the middle.
“He was confident on defense,” he said. “He did a great job walling up on Brown. We needed him this game. To see the energy he brought to the building and to the team was great.
“He changed the game. That’s when you know you’re becoming a team.”
These Huskies are fun to watch, yet they are not close to the Lorenzo Romar teams that included Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson. They are, however the favorite to be the top seed in the conference tourney and the likeliest to get invited to the NCAA dance, thanks in part to the lameness of the conference.
The Huskies aren’t responsible for that. All they can do is bring a rare combination of balance and smarts, plus the annoying awkwardness of the 2-3 zone, to spoil the madness for a couple of higher-seeded teams.
“It’s depth confidence, poise and experience,” Hopkins said. “We’ve had experiences that younger teams haven’t had.
‘We’ve learned how to win. Now we need to learn how to be champions.”
Sometimes in basketball, all that’s needed to establish the truth of a good team is a good flop.