Members of the overhauled University of Washington basketball team got to know each other a little better in their second outing against a lesser opponent, and this familiarity paid off against Northern Arizona.
On Thursday night at Alaska Airlines Arena, the Huskies managed to beat this underdog 73-62, with the positive outcome a major victory in itself for the program in general.
Drum roll, please: It was marked just the 10th win in 45 outings for a Mike Hopkins team over parts of the past three seasons. The Huskies had lost their last five games going back to last season and counting their debut two nights earlier.
It's a start.
Of course, the outcome didn't come easy for these continuously shot-challenged Huskies (1-1), who allowed the Lumberjacks, a 29-point loser to Arizona in their opener, to hang around far too long before finishing off the Big Sky team (0-2).
Hopkins, not pleased with the shot selection or hustle by his new team in its season debut against Northern Illinois, frequently sent players on and off the floor as he looked for combinations that might jell and put some fear into the other guys.
The effort was better, but these Huskies still didn't scare anyone offensively, demonstrating limited range from the perimeter and continuous struggles at the free-throw line. They shot 36.7 from the field, 38.5 from 3-point range.
Yet there were three things that Hopkins did to avert another upset after opening with a 7-point loss to Northern Illinois.
He coaxed a solid night out of West Virginia transfer Emmitt Matthews, a 6-foot-7 junior forward from Tacoma, who supplied his second-highest college total with 21 points along with 9 rebounds. His scoring output was the most since he had 28 as a freshman in the Big 12 tourney against Texas Tech as a true freshman.
"You flush the loss," Matthews said. "You come in and you come in ready to win. You come in with a new mindset. I think we're going to continue to build off tonight."
Hopkins also encouraged Jamal Bey, one of his few holdovers, to look for his shot more and the 6-foot-6 senior from Las Vegas responded with 10 of his 15 points in the opening half. However, the Pac-12's leading 3-point shooter from a year ago still chose to take pull-up jumpers and drive to the basket rather than launch treys, where he hit 2 of 3.
Finally, the UW coach chose to get his McDonald's All-American, 6-foot-10 Jackson Grant from Olympia, Washington, more involved with this team. The young big man, still feeling his way around the college game, was active inside, dropping in a put-back and dishing to open teammates. He finished with 7 points and 4 rebounds. He'll be playing a lot more by the time conference play begins.
As this team bonds together, a Pac-12 networks TV camera captured Matthews, the upperclassman, putting his arm around Grant on the bench and giving him vocal encouragement well into the second half, a gesture that made the true freshman smile.
"I told him to just keep going, that I'm proud of him," Matthews said. "He's come a long way since he got here."
The Huskies finally pulled away from a tie at 48 with Northern Arizona with 12:10 left to play by going on a 10-0 run. It began with 6-foot-11 junior big man Nate Roberts hitting one of two free throws.
Making more work out of it than they should have, Daejon Davis, Bey and Roberts followed up by each hitting one of two foul shots before Matthews drained a jumper, and Bey and Davis each sank a pair of free throws.
They're a work in progress.
The Huskies return to action on Monday at home against Texas Southern, another very beatable opponent.
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