Perhaps it was the heat of the 135th consecutive day without rain in the Valley of the Sun. Or maybe it was the half-empty Wells Fargo Arena, but the Huskies came out flat against Arizona State. Despite hot shooting by Ryan Appleby, Jon Brockman, and Mike Jensen, Washington trailed at halftime for only the fourth time this season. The score of 40-38 was the reverse image of the first meeting in Seattle. Then, like a desert mirage, the second half eerily mirrored the previous blowout as the Huskies scorched the Sun Devils for 53 points in the 91-64 momentum-building victory.
Kevin Kruger, the Sun Devil guard who would draw all-conference consideration if he didn't labor for a last place team, jumped on top of the Dawgs with 19 points in the first half. The sluggish Huskies stayed within arms reach of the roadrunner with a pair of 3-pointers from Appleby and Jensen. But after the Dawgs surged ahead for one of their few leads of the half, 38-35, Sylvester Seay hit a trey over Justin Dentmon, his former teammate from Winchendon Prep, and Kruger hit an 18-foot jumper before the buzzer for the Devils' last advantage.
The Huskies ignited after the break on treys by Bobby Jones and Dentmon for an initial 11-0 UW run. Washington had scored the first 10 points of the second half at Edmundson Pavilion in the Pac-10 opener. After Kruger snapped the streak, the Dawgs came out of a timeout with a perfectly-executed play. Dentmon fed Brandon Roy for an emphatic backdoor lob-jam that seemed to shake the Sun Devils' confidence. With the visitors dominating the glass, the Dawgs capped the 27-10 opening with Appleby's third triple with 9:36 left.
Washington held a lead of 20 or more points for much of the remainder as the starters were pulled early. The 53-24 scoring advantage in the second half was just a shade off the 51-29 dominance from the first meeting. With their seventh consecutive defeat of the Sun Devils, the Huskies ran their winning streak to seven games.
Arizona State focused their efforts on stopping Roy, with a muscling, denial defense that won the battle, but lost the war. Roy finished with 13 points, the first time in 10 games he didn't eclipse the 20-point mark, but the Huskies countered with five scorers in double figures.
"They did a good job of pressing up on him, trying to put a stronger guy on him," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "But what ended up happening is it just opened up everyone else."
With his second headlining effort in the last three games, Jensen led the No. 14 Huskies in scoring for the first time since Jan. 2, 2005, with 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting from behind the arc. With an assertive first half, Brockman finished as one of four Huskies with 13 points. Four of Jamaal Williams' six rebounds came off the offensive glass as the senior forward got five of his 13 points from the line. The baker's dozen from Roy included 3-of-4 shooting from the line, but his only miss was his first attempt, which broke his consecutive free throw streak at 32, one short of the record set by Eldridge Recasner in 1989.
While Recasner held on to one record, the guard from New Orleans lost another. Dentmon, who entered the game tied with Recasner's 103 assists as a freshman, established the new frosh mark with six assists. Roy and Dentmon, who had 10 assists combined versus ASU, are the sixth pair of Huskies to reach the 100-assist mark in the same season.
Appleby's 13 points came on two drives, an emerging part of his game, and 3-of-6 shooting from the arc. Jones added a pair of treys as part of his nine points on top seven rebounds, a team-high shared with the morphing Roy.
"I've never been around anyone on a college level that can give you so much of what you need," said Romar after picking up his 81st win in his fourth year at the Husky helm. "It's different on every night. He didn't score 20 tonight, but he played another good game. He rebounded, he defended."
The reigning Pac-10 Player of the Week for the majority of February, Roy returned the defensive favor by guarding Kruger in the second half. The Sun Devils' leading scorer was limited to four of his game-high 23 points after halftime. Roy had a large hand in his 2-of-6 shooting after the break, following an 8-of-11 first half.
With 3-balls from five players, the Huskies shot 11 of 25 from triple range, the fourth consecutive game with 10 or more 3-pointers. Prior to the streak, the Dawgs had double-digit treys on only two occasions all season. The Huskies are third in the Pac-10 in 3-point shooting (.365) for the season, and the league-leader in conference games (.381). That's a promising trend as the Dawgs travel to Tucson for Saturday's showdown with Arizona, the worst team in the conference in 3-point FG percentage allowed. The Huskies currently have three players ranked in the conference's top six for 3-point FG percentage.
"We've got several guys who are very comfortable knocking that shot down—Mike Jensen, Bobby Jones, Ryan Appleby and Brandon Roy," Romar rattled off. "When our team is in a rhythm and spacing the floor and moving the basketball, those things just kind of open up for us. Those guys shoot with a lot of confidence."
Renewed defensive effort triggered the late landslide, the second consecutive road game in which the Huskies have scored 50 or more points in the second half. Washington whipped Oregon State for 52 points after halftime in Corvallis two weeks ago, one point better than the second-half hurtin' the Dawgs put on the Sun Devils in December. After a hot first half Thursday night, ASU hit only 11 or 28 shots in the second stanza.
"We only contested 5 of 26 shots going into the half," said Jensen. "Coach said, 'That's not Husky basketball. If we play defense the offense will come.' I hate to say it, but he's always right."
The Dawgs (23-5, 12-5) capitalized on the 14 ASU turnovers with an impressively efficient 28 points. Despite a 15-point, 11-rebound effort from freshman standout Jeff Pendergraph, the Huskies held a 38-28 rebounding advantage, running their record to 20-1 when they win the battle of the boards.
Arizona set up the high-stakes finale by holding off the Cougars, 66-61. Washington State trimmed a double-digit lead down to two points late in the second half, but fell short yet again. The victory pulled the Wildcats (18-10, 11-6) into a three-way tie with California (17-9, 11-6) and Stanford (15-12, 11-6). UCLA remained atop the conference by scoring the last 12 points in overtime at Berkeley for a 67-58 victory over the Golden Bears. The Bruins (23-6, 13-4) clinched at least a share of their first regular season Pac-10 title since 1997. A Stanford upset of UCLA in Palo Alto, followed by a Husky victory would give Washington a share of its first title in 20 years. The Cardinal-Bruin game will be broadcast at 1 p.m. on CBS, with the 'Cats and Dawgs on FSN at 3 p.m.
"It's going to be a war," said an excited Romar of the Senior Day scrap that will be the final home game for the likes of Chris Rodgers and Hassan Adams, the conference's active career leader in points, rebounds, and steals. "It's going to be loud in the McKale Center. I know our guys have been looking forward to this for awhile."