Nigel Williams-Goss scores 17 points with a career-high 12 rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. Andrew Andrews is also great again. And the Huskies (16-13, 8-8 Pac-12) gain more momentum for March. Two games remain in the regular season, next week at home vs. UCLA and USC.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – A sure sign of long-awaited progress heading into March: These Huskies are getting production everywhere – and from guys not named C.J. Wilcox.
“Several guys are stepping up and playing at a higher level than they played earlier in the year,” coach Lorenzo Romar said late Friday night, after Washington’s reassuring, 72-49 thumping of Washington State at roaring Alaska Airlines Arena.
“And it’s helping us. We are not having one guy show up now. We have others. And multiple guys are showing up on the same night.”
No one is stepping higher or more impressively than Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews.
Williams-Goss was fantastic again, completely controlling Washington State and thus Friday’s game. The smooth, 19-year-old point guard had 17 points to add to his Pac-12 scoring lead among freshmen. He had a career-high 12 rebounds, four assists with no turnovers in 30 more exquisite minutes. And he made the game’s decisive defensive play.
When WSU crept within 53-44 with 13 minutes left, Williams-Goss slammed any remaining hope for the Cougars with a steal of D.J. Shelton’s pass at midcourt. He then took off alone for a startling, breakaway dunk that had the season’s largest and loudest Dawg Pack students’ section – and every other part of the arena – going bonkers.
The dunk deflated WSU. It scored just three points over the following 10 minutes as the Huskies (16-13, 8-8 Pac-12) romped and dunked to a 72-47 lead.
OK, it was a half slam, on which he sort of gave up at the front of the rim.
“I mean, if you want to count that as a dunk ...,” Williams-Goss said, sheepishly.
Six days earlier, the prodigy became the first Husky freshman since 1994 to have 10 assists in a game.
“No, he’s not playing like a freshman,” Romar said. “You find yourself not wanting to take him out of the game, because he manages the game so well.”
Andrews continued his recent tear with 16 points and a career-best nine rebounds. Andrews has 66 points and 32 rebounds in the four games since Romar sat him for all but 5, scoreless minutes in the win over Stanford. The coach says Andrews is now playing his best in two years at UW.
It was 6-0 right away, then 28-18, then 36-24 at the half, on a 3-pointer by Wilcox just before the halftime buzzer. He was so wide open the Pac-12’s fourth-leading scorer didn’t even need to have his eyes open to make that one.
Washington dominated a Cougars team that had beaten them four weeks earlier by crashing the boards, rotating and talking on defense – and just plain throttling the 11th-place team in the Pac-12.
WSU's 49 points were the fewest allowed the Huskies in 76 games, since Feb. 4, 2012, win 69-41 over USC.
Wilcox was 3 for 5 for eight points for UW, which lost 72-67 on Feb. 1 in Pullman – its most galling and damaging defeat of the season.
Now, after a 24-point road win over Oregon State last weekend and this shellacking of the Cougars, the Huskies are in sixth place in the Pac-12 with two regular-season games remaining, at home next week against second-place UCLA and last-place USC.
“I think we have a confidence right that if we do what we are supposed to do, we can play with anyone,” Romar said. “That’s a confidence that’s been lacking.
“Again, it’s only two games. It’s not like we are undefeated (for the season). But we’ve come to believe if we are playing the way we should we can compete with anyone.”
For the second consecutive game – continuing his trend throughout Pac-12 play, really – Williams-Goss was fantastically dominant. The freshman has repeatedly said this season that he is willing to do whatever the team needs most that night to win.
Against Oregon State at home last month it was scoring, when Wilcox and Andrews and everyone else was off. So Williams-Goss set the UW freshman scoring record with 32 points that day to rally UW from 12 down at home to win.
Friday, Romar spent the week emphasizing to his guys – including the guards -- the need to rebound this week. WSU had 14 of the first 20 offensive rebounds to fuel its comeback Feb. 1 against the Huskies in Pullman.
So Williams-Goss went out and had his career-high eighth rebound by the midway point of the second half – as the point guard.
Someone mentioned Brandon Roy, who was sitting courtside Friday two weeks before the Husky legend goes into the Pac-12 Basketball Hall of Honor. The questioner likened Williams-Goss to Roy and No. 3’s reputation as a “provider” in every way during his Pac-12 player-of-the-year stardom at UW.
“I think that’s kind of how he plays. Not everybody has the ability to do that,” Romar said.
Fellow 6-3 perimeter man Andrews was right with Williams-Goss, dashing into the lane and ripping the ball from Cougars 5 or more inches taller.
“For a second (earlier in the season), we didn’t really know that we could all crash,” Andrews said, backing up Romar’s assertion that earlier rebounding woes were partly because guards were “leaking” toward midcourt while foes took shots, to try to jumpstart fast breaks.
“On the defensive glass, because we are so small, (one starter, Shawn Kemp Jr., taller than 6-7) we know we have to all crash,” Andrews said.
The Huskies did so Friday without fear of being burned on WSU fast breaks at the other end. They knew the battered Cougars lack a true point guard. On defense, the Huskies focused on letting leading scorer DaVonte Lacy get his – but not let any other Cougar get theirs.
In the previous meeting D.J. Shelton had a career day for Washington State: 20 points, 18 rebounds, and many offensive boards with kick-out passes to wide-open Lacy. That’s what got WSU back from 8 down in the second half to 10 ahead, and the Huskies lost in Pullman.
Friday, Shelton was just 3 for 14 from the field – including 0 for 10 from 3-point range. So, yes, Lacy ended up with 25 points, but no other Cougar scored more than Shelton’s mere 7. WSU finished just 31 percent (14 for 45) from the field.
“That was just executing our scout,” Andrews said of the pregame scouting report.
Sounds simple, but that alone is something these Huskies failed to do consistently into February.
The Huskies now have those two regular-season games, the first on Thursday at 6 p.m. against UCLA, before the Pac-12 tournament begins March 12 in Las Vegas. Washington is 13-3 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
If they keeping playing like this -- being multi-dimensional and making teams pay for focusing multiple defenders on Wilcox -- 15-3 at home and a top-six seeding for a run in that league tournament is possible.
“If you could script it that way, that’s what you’d want to do: Play your best basketball at the end of the season,” Romar said.
“Now, that’s the way it is on Feb. 28th. We have to come out Thursday and do it again.”