Perris Blackwell exploits a tricky, 1-1-3 zone defense with 20 points and seven rebounds. C.J. Wilcox adds 19 points, 14 in the first half, as UW improves to 5-4. Next up: Tuesday night at Tulane.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Instead of exploring and probing Idaho State’s pesky, trapping, shorter defense, the Huskies had a refreshing, decisive response.
“What we’d been guilty of was walking around and jogging around trying to figure it out,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said of previous games against tricky defenses. “Today, we attacked.”
With Perris Blackwell inside and C.J. Wilcox outside.
Blackwell found room behind the 1-1-3 zone for a career-high 20 points and seven rebounds. Wilcox exploited the perimeter of the defense especially early, finishing with 19 points and forcing Idaho State out of the zone into a box and one on him. That’s how Washington returned home with an 85-66 victory Saturday afternoon at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“The first half we did a good job attacking (the zone), kicking it out and getting the ball to Perris inside,” said Wilcox, who made four of his first five shots from 3-point range Saturday for Washington (5-4), after going 3 for 5 from deep in last weekend’s loss late at No. 24 San Diego State.
His fast start and Blackwell’s dominant finish allowed UW’s two walk-ons to play for the first time this season.
“Our personal goal, among just us, was to get Quinn Sterling and Connor Smith into the game,” said Andrew Andrews, who had 17 points, three assists and two steals.
That happened in the final minute, when each made their season debuts.
Blackwell bettered by two points his previous career high he set at San Francisco before he transferred here last year, and equaled two weeks ago in the win over Long Beach State. With no one taller than 6 feet 5 inside to stop him, the 6-9 Blackwell ruled the lane while adding to his Pac-12-leading total with five offensive rebounds.
The 275-pound Blackwell even ran the floor like a 190-pound guard.
After Wilcox blocked a shot with 11 minutes left and Nigel Williams-Goss grabbed the loose ball, the freshman point guard passed ahead to the sprinting Blackwell ahead of the retreating Bengals. Blackwell then surprised Idaho State – and perhaps Williams-Goss – by sending back a perfect pass while on the run. The ball found Williams-Goss’ hands in the lane for an easy score, and the Huskies led 68-56.
“I love to share the ball and contribute to my teammates,” the multi-faceted Blackwell said.
As for all the space he had to score inside, Blackwell smiled.
“The game plan was, we knew their big man (6-9 Ayibakuro Preh) was going to come out to guard the wings,” he said of Idaho State’s zany zone. “Yeah, I knew that was going to happen.”
Following the scouting report as coaches had presented it to them in practice has been an issue for this inconsistent team early this season, so Saturday was a sign of progress beyond just the victory.
The other places Romar and veteran assistant Brad Jackson, Washington’s scouting report presenter, had told the Huskies would be open offensively against Idaho State was in the corners. Sure enough, three of Wilcox’s first four 3-pointers came from the deep right corner, after teammates had gotten into Idaho State’s zone defense and passed back out to their left-alone sharpshooter.
“This team plays differently than any team we’d played, primarily because of its defense,” Romar said of Idaho State (3-4), which lost by eight this week at Utah after leading by 15. “We attacked it inside.”
But then Wilcox took just one shot over the final 3 minutes of the first half and first 14 minutes of the second half, as the Bengals diverted into a box-and-one defense on him. In that span, Idaho State cut the lead from 12 to five. When Wilcox made just his second shot after halftime, from the top of the key with 6 minutes to go, the Huskies went back up by nine.
Asked if he’d like to see Wilcox shoot more, Romar joked that as good as his senior is he might want Wilcox to chuck it 50 times a game.
“But, and maybe it’s just me, you shoot 55 percent, let’s roll with it,” the coach said of the Huskies’ final shooting rate Saturday.
Idaho State did not score a basket in the final 9:51 Saturday. The Bengals missed their final eight shots, after starting the game with high-50-percent shooting.
Asked if that was better defense or Idaho State just running out of gas in its upset bid, Andrews laughed.
“I hope it’s because we clicked,” he said. “We’ve been working a lot on defense. We had to focus down on getting stops.
When Idaho State’s unorthodox, trapping zone defense jumped out to challenge his 3’s, Wilcox drove in for a runner in the lane that made it 34-23 Huskies with 6:52 left in the opening half.
Jahmel Taylor provided a spark to the end half, and may have earned more playing time in doing so. The freshman guard from Los Angeles, scoreless in 8 combined minutes through the first eight games, hit a deep 3 after an offensive rebound by Blackwell. He then scrapped for a loose ball to earn free throws with 4 seconds left in the opening period. He made both to send UW into halftime with a 46-35 lead, matching its largest of the half.
Washington showed patience and made good decisions versus the Bengals’ trap. The Huskies had 14 assists on their first 16 baskets, and finished with 19 assists on 32 makes. Williams-Goss had four assists to only one turnover in the opening half.
The one nagging area of concern: Defense in the half court. The Huskies came in last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (84.1 points allowed per game) and field-goal percentage defense (51 percent against). Concerned with a team that shoots 42 percent from 3-point range, the Huskies allowed Idaho State to shoot 54 percent overall in the first half. The smaller Bengals scored 26 of their first 41 points in the paint, most on drives past defenders off ball screens.
On the flip side, though, Idaho State made just 2 of 13 3-point shots. And when the Huskies’ lead grew late, the Bengals had no answers outside.
The Huskies leave Sunday for New Orleans ahead of Tuesday’s game at Tulane. It’s a homecoming Romar scheduled for Jernard Jarreau that will include a visit Monday night for dinner at the injured forward’s family home in east New Orleans.
The Dawgs return home Sunday, Dec. 22 for a marquee game against Connecticut.