BY Bob Sherwin 05:57PM 01/22/2011

Huskies’ experience wins out in 88-73 decision over ASU

Bryan-Amaning, Thomas rise to meet the challenge

Matthew Bryan-Amaning, with a career-high 30 points, finishes a dunk against Arizona State. (Drew McKenzie photo)

Matthew Bryan-Amaning, with a career-high 30 points, finishes a dunk against Arizona State. (Drew McKenzie/Sportspress Northwest)

The way the Huskies have been playing at home this season, their 88-75 victory over Arizona State Saturday goes down as a buzzer-beater.

In the long history of Alaska Airlines Arena, or for that matter this entire season, the place has been a nightmare for opponents. UW already has a record-tying five 100-point games, four at home. The Huskies’ average margin of victory here is 28.2 points.

They have yet to score under 80 at home this season. The 88 points allowed by the Sun Devils were the most under Coach Herb Sendek during his four-year tenure in Tempe.

It was a rare nail-biter – and that’s a good thing for the still-improving Huskies. They needed a test like this in comfortable, familiar surroundings.

“I came out of the game and I had 20-something points, and I was telling Scott (Suggs) ‘oh my God, everything’s falling.’ Then I look up and we up two,” said UW forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who had a career-high 30 points. “When it happens like that, you just have to realize time and situation and were able to pull it off in the second half.”

By any measure, Arizona State (9-10, 1-6), last in most categories in the Pac-10, should not have been running so late with the Huskies. Yet with 4:08 left, UW led just 70-68.

Bryan-Amaning said the key word was patience.

“Definitely. You could see guys taking their time, swinging the ball from side to side, trying to get ball reversals and looking for the open shot,” MBA said. “Guys were giving up good shots to get great shots.”

From 8:15 to 2:40, the Sun Devils made all five of their shot attempts. The Huskies couldn’t shake them. UW guard C.J. Wilcox hit an apparent momentum-locking three-pointer with 5:52 left, then 40 seconds later, ASU guard Ty Abbott countered with a high-degree-of-difficulty three from deep in the right corner.

Dagger for dagger as the Huskies tried to shake the Sun-Devil-may-care determination.

It got down to just a three-point game, 74-71, when ASU forward Rihards Kuksiks hit a tough trey at 2:40. A game that matched the best vs. worst in the best’s high-asset arena in front of a oppressive sold-out crowd, and it’s a three-point game inside three minutes.

“I think this group maintained its composure down the stretch and made good defensive plays,” UW Coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They made good defensive plays and got stops. That was the difference.”

They didn’t panic. They focused. They made plays. They kept their poise.

That has everything to do with the players on the floor down the stretch, seniors Bryan-Amaning, Venoy Overton and Justin Holiday and juniors Isaiah Thomas and Scott Suggs. They kept it simple, concentrating on the small stuff.

“As a veteran team you’ve just got to be ready no matter what type of game it is,” Thomas said. “We knew it was going to be a little letdown coming into this game because it wasn’t as hyped as last game (against No. 25 Arizona). At the same time we showed that we can win games like this. Day in and day out we’ve got to get better to win games like this.”

It was Thomas, once again, who played a major role, but in a different, less recognized area. He scored 19 points and had eight assists, but mostly his contribution was his defense. At halftime, Romar looked him in the eye and said ‘you guard him. You shut him down.”.

He was talking about Abbott, who had 13 points in the first half, hitting all three of his three-point attempts.

“I take pride in taking on the best player of the opposing team,” Thomas said. “I tried my best to slow him down a little bit. My teammates and I did a good job of it.”

With the 5-foot-9 Thomas shadowing the 6-3 Abbott, he scored just seven second-half points, made 1 of 4 three-pointers with no assists.

“This year, guys that he defends, he is so good at just taking them out of the game,” Romar said. “I don’t think we would have won the game tonight if he didn’t guard Abbott in the second half. I am not lobbying anything, I am just telling you how I feel. He should be on the all-defensive team. He has played that good of defense for us.”

This a game for the veterans like Thomas and Bryan-Amaning to show the youngsters how to win ball games, doing the little things, doing the gritty things.

Bryan-Amaning hit all eight of his free throws and missed only two shots in the second half. Thomas had six of his eight assists in the second half. Suggs hit a huge three-pointer – the biggest shot of the game – at 1:10 to give the Huskies a 81-73 lead, a clutch killer inflating/deflating basket.

The Huskies scored 12 of their 15 points off turnovers in the second half. They held the Devils to just two offensive rebounds.

“They are a very good team,” Sendek said. “They have an outstanding guard, Isaiah Thomas. They have an outstanding post player, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, and they have enough athletic wing players that can not only beat you off of the dribble, but they can make shots. Defensively, they can really get after it. They’re a really good team.”

As the Huskies reach the conference midway point with their road game next Sunday against Washington State, this was the kind of test they needed. When you win at home so often by so much, you can take it for granted. You put it in drive and set the cruise control. Not this one. This was not automatic, it was stick shift.

All the talk about shooters and high-scoring offense, the Huskies experience is their strength and it surfaced on Saturday. Those guys kept it under control. They hit the big shot and made the big stop. They recognized the Sun Devil threat and took positive action.

For the first time this season, the Huskies got all tangled up in a home ‘nail-biter’ and managed to squeeze out a 13-point win.