It didn’t feel quite like the old days, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said, but he was ready to admit Alaska Airlines Arena had a little more energy than usual Sunday night after his Huskies basketball team easily dispatched No. 13 San Diego State, 49-36.
A UW team picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 moved to 7-0 for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
They did it by holding the Aztecs to 20.4 percent shooting. It was San Diego State’s lowest point total since it moved to Division I.
“We told our (guys) before we even started practicing that potentially we could be a really, really good defensive team,” Romar said.
They proved it in a game in which both teams struggled to score. Guard Nigel Williams-Goss led the Huskies with 15 points and backcourt mate Andrew Andrews chipped in 13, nine of which came in the second half on three three-pointers.
The Huskies got off to a fast start defensively, as San Diego State missed its first 10 shots, then labored for the rest of the first half. SDSU’s Dwayne Polee II finally made a three-pointer, the visitors’ first of the night, with a few seconds left in the first half to cut UW’s lead to 21-15 going into the break.
“It’s something we’ve been stressing, and I think it’s something we’ve been talking about a lot,” Romar said. “If we’re going to be successful at all, it’s going to be on the defensive end. You explain that every year but some teams grasp it more than others. Some teams embrace it more than others. This team has embraced it.”
“Our offense was bad,” said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher after the Aztecs dropped to 6-2. “UW had a lot to do with that.”
Center Robert Upshaw helped the Huskies dominate. In the latest NCAA rankings, the six-foot-11 sophomore transfer from Fresno State leads the nation in blocked shots (29), then rang up another four, along with seven points and seven rebounds, in 23 minutes.
With about 12 minutes left, Andrews followed an Upshaw block with a three, which grew the lead to 31-21. They never looked back.
Forward Shawn Kemp Jr. added eight points and four rebounds in 24 minutes. He also provided the 6,199 in attendance a left-handed, fast-break dunk that, well, looked like what his dad, Shawn Sr., used to do routinely when he played for the Seattle Supersonics.
Kemp was hampered last season by Graves disease but has apparently learned to deal with the illness. Upshaw had to sit last year because of NCAA transfer rules, but appears comfortable on both ends of the floor. In Sunday’s second half, Upshaw posted on the baseline, turned over his left shoulder and sunk a silky 12-foot hook shot.
“(Robert) and Shawn have given us an entirely different look this year,” Romar said. “I think that’s a big difference.”
Or as, Williams-Goss put it:
“I think I can speak for all the guards. It makes it a lot easier to pressure when you have a safety net back there. We try not to rely on (Upshaw) . . . we know we have him to help challenge shots.”
It helped the Huskies easily win a “measuring stick” game despite shooting just 37.5 percent from the field. The Aztecs, who won 31 games last season and made it to the Sweet 16, did not have a player reach double figures. San Diego State was held to 2-of-15 (13.3 percent) from three-point range, and in the first half, five-of-30 shooting (16.7 percent).
Where did this come from?
“I just think this is a makeup of a team that isn’t going to question a whole lot,” Romar said. “And I think we’ve had two years where we’ve been mediocre. Guys don’t want to be mediocre anymore.”