In front of an impressive holiday crowd of 10,000 fans, the 9th ranked UW Huskies overcame their least impressive offensive performance of the year, in a 54-37 victory against Lehigh University tonight at B of A Arena. The Dawgs were held to 41 points below their season average, committed 18 turnovers and had their worst shooting night of the season against a Lehigh squad predicted to finish in the middle of the pack of a mediocre Patriot league.
All this comes on the heals of Pac-10 play; a league many consider to be the strongest it has been in recent memory. But in a game nearly as ugly as Lehigh's tan brown uniforms, Coach Romar found beauty. The Dawgs, now 10-0 on the season, gained valuable experience against a defensive style used by many of their league foes. According to Romar, this will serve them well in conference play.
"It was a really good game for us to play, going into conference play," said Romar, referring to the Mountain Hawks collapsing defensive play and deliberate, low tempo offensive.
"It was a good lesson for us to go through in a game situation, so that when we meet this type of situation in conference play, we'll be a little more prepared for it."
Thanks in large part to a rugged Lehigh defense, UW never got off to their trademark quick start. Their first offensive possession resulted in a turnover, courtesy of an errant Bobby Jones pass, which set the stage for an evening of inept offense. Hans Gasser, making an unusual early entrance 5 minutes into the game, contributed immediately with 2 mid range jumpers to give the Huskies a 10-6 lead. A Ryan Appleby 3-pointer at the midway mark of the first half put The Huskies up 15 – 9 and Dawgs began to pull away. Bobby Jones, who led the Huskies with 12 points, proceeded to block a Lehigh shot, pull down the rebound and hit a 3 pointer at the other end to put some distance between themselves and the Mountain Hawks at 18 – 9. The Dawgs never looked back from there, building a 19 point lead before half time.
In perhaps the biggest story of the first half, forward Mike Jensen made hit much anticipated return to the court after sitting out the first 9 games with an injured shoulder. Jensen, a 5th year senior and an invaluable addition to the squad, looked sharp upon his return
Near the end of the first half, he shot – and canned – his first stroke of the season, and followed that with a transition three pointer that got the crowd to its feet. It was the last Husky hoop of the half and they went to the locker room with a 32-15 lead. "Mike did a very nice job," said Romar. "He came in and hit those two shots – I know he felt good about that. It was just good to have him back out there playing."
The second half yielded much of the same results as the first; marred by turnovers and missed shots. The Huskies continued to struggle offensively, but thanks to an ineffective Lehigh offense, they were able to stretch their lead to 28 points and cruise to 17 point victory.
Lehigh Head Coach Billy Taylor's game plan played a major role in UW's poor offensive showing. "We really focused on trying to limit the amount of points scored in the paint for Washington," he said.
The biggest victims to Lehigh's defensive scheme were UW's low post players. They had a tough night, to say the least. Jamaal Williams, who has been the go – to guy for The Dawgs the past 3 games, averaging 23 PPG, was limited to 10 points on 5 -12 shooting.
"I think they did a very good job on the defensive end," said Williams, who, at times was visibly frustrated at the constantly collapsing defense of Lehigh. "We struggled a little bit."
Another inside UW powerhouse that fell victim to Lehigh's scheme was freshman sensation Jon Brockman, who finally experienced some first year lumps. Brockman, who was averaging 12.7 PPG and 7.9 rebounds coming into the contest, was virtually non-existent. Brockman never got into his game, partly because he has so few touches. He finished with no points and only 1 rebound, on 0-2 shooting.
Mike Jensen played an additional 8 minutes in the second half without taking a shot. Although he appeared winded towards the end of the evening, he was happy with his play. He finished with 5 points and 4 rebounds in 13 minutes.
Nearly lost in an evening of offensive futility was a solid defensive effort by The Dawgs. Lehigh, who at half time only had 15 points, was nearly on pace to break a record set by their league rival, Princeton, earlier in the year. The Tigers set an NCAA record for fewest points in a game with 21.
Fortunately, they managed to surpass that point total, but the 37 points they finished with was the lowest scored by a Husky opponent in 35 years - The Cougs of WSU recorded 36 points against UW in 1970, prior to the use of the shot clock in D1 basketball.
"Defensively, in the first half, we played really well," said Romar, who was less than content about his teams' defensive performance in the second half. "I thought in the second half we lost focus a bit."
Lehigh Coach Billy Taylor was also pleased with his team's defense, who managed to slow down one of the most potent offenses in the nation.
"I loved our defensive effort," he praised. "I was really proud of our guys to be able to play the kind of defense that we did. Their team is very tough to stop in transition, but I thought our guys were really keyed in, and tried to limit those easy opportunities."
There were a couple milestones set at Bank of America Arena on Friday night. The win versus Lehigh marked the 800th all time in the arena, which is the most wins by any NCAA team in the nation at its current venue. Also, Bobby Jones, the Husky leading scorer of the night has now reached the millennium milestone in points scored in his career. With those 12 points, he now has scored exactly 1,000 points in his 3 plus years on campus.
The Dawgs will begin their Pac-10 schedule with two home games against the Arizona schools next week. After an undefeated pre-season and a top 10 ranking, all is well in Romarville, and he believes his players will be ready for a tough conference schedule. "I think our guys are excited to play in the Pac-10 season," said Romar. "They've been looking forward to playing in the Pac -10 season for a couple of weeks."
Points: Jones 12, Williams 10, Gasser 7, Roy 6, Appleby 6, Jensen 5, Dentmon 4, Smith 2, Wallace 2
Boards: Roy 7, Smith 5, Jones 5, Williams 5, Jensen 4, Wallace 3, Appleby 2, Gasser 2, Dentmon 1, Burmeister, Potter, Brockman
Assists: Smith 2, Roy 2, Appleby 2, Williams 2, Dentmon 1, Jones 1, Gasser 1, Brockman 1, Jensen 1
Steals: Roy 3, Jones 2, Brockman 2, Appleby 1
Blocks: Jones 3, Jensen 2, Williams 1, Wallace 1