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Woeful shooting, defensive breakdowns result in Huskies’ startling first loss

Woeful shooting, defensive breakdowns result in Huskies’ startling first loss

Braxton Meah expresses frustration towards the ref in the second half of Washington's game against Cal Baptist on November 17 at Hec Ed Pavilion. UW lost to Cal Baptist, 73-64. 

The first 1:20 went about as well as the Washington men’s basketball team could have asked for Thursday night. 

The remaining 38:40, not so much. 

Two early three pointers by graduate Jamal Bey and senior PJ Fuller contributed to an opening 8-0 lead for UW, prompting an early timeout. Unfortunately, the impressive 80 seconds gave a false impression of what the remainder of the game would hold, as Washington dropped its first game of the season to Cal Baptist, 73-64. 

“We need to be better,” head coach Mike Hopkins said. “We need to be able to score some points, that’s what we struggled with – we scored 10 in the first three minutes of the game, and then it was like the faucet got turned off.” 

The Huskies’ (3-1) first three possessions, which resulted in 3-3 shooting, two of which came from beyond the arc, were ultimately outliers; UW made just one of its next 13 3-point attempts and ended the night 4-16 from behind the arc, after making over 50% of shots from downtown in Monday’s win. 

“We couldn’t get in the paint,” Hopkins said. “When we’re getting in the paint, it forces teams to kind of collapse and that’s when the ball’s moving and getting good looks. Tonight, we were a little bit stagnant, we missed some shots that we normally make, and that happens sometimes.”

Senior Keion Brooks Jr. made his return from injury, but didn’t make the impact he would have liked. Instead, the Kentucky transfer shot 4-12 from the field, scoring 11 points in the loss.

“As you can tell, I had some time off,” Brooks said. “I didn’t look as sharp as I was before – I feel like I kind of pressed a little bit too much.” 

The faucet was turned off for UW’s offense, but the defense needed some repairing as well. Cal Baptist guard Taran Armstrong scored 18 points, center Timothy Ighoefe pieced together a double-double, and the Huskies regularly looked discombobulated as the Lancers rained down threes and threw down dunks. 

“It was one of those games where we’ve got to stay disciplined, and stay solid,” junior center Franck Kepnang said. “Especially in that second half, as you can see, we had to stay down against smaller guards. Me and Braxton [Meah] being such a big presence down low, I’m guessing their coach tells them all the time, ‘They’re gonna jump.’ It’s one of those games where we have to stay solid, and really know the scouting report.” 

The Huskies’ initial 8-0 lead quickly disintegrated, and the Lancers (3-1) took a 33-26 lead into halftime. 

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Facing a 10 point deficit, UW changed things up by playing Kepnang and Braxton Meah simultaneously, and sliced the lead to just four. 

Alaska Airlines Arena was rejuvenated, and momentarily, the Huskies appeared to be on the cusp of another second half comeback. 

But, every time the Huskies were on the verge of going on a run, the Lancers kept them at arm's length, due to a wise switch to zone defense, and  Armstrong’s strong offensive showing. 

“They’ve got a good team,” Hopkins said. “They share the ball, but when you’ve got a guy like [Armstrong], that’s hard to turn over, and he seems to make the right play most of the time – he made a big three, he made the two when we were trying to get back – that’s what good teams do. They have an answer, and we got close, and we couldn’t get the answer.” 

Cal Baptist played a great game, sure, but even Hopkins had to admit that UW wasn’t firing on many cylinders. 

“You can’t put a team on the foul line 26 times in the second half, and you can’t let them shoot 57% from the field,” Hopkins said. “Those are not winning numbers. And we couldn’t score, and that was a big thing.” 

As it heads to the Wooden Classic next week, UW hopes that Thursday’s clunker doesn’t become common. 

“We’ve got to learn from it, we’ve got to move forward,” Hopkins said. “I told the guys, ‘This doesn’t define our season, this is the time that you’re learning these things, and getting better as a team, and it’s going to take all of us.’” 

The shooting was off, the defense consistently broke down, and despite its efforts, UW simply couldn’t sustain any type of momentum. It was, on all counts,  an off night. The Huskies hope to only have a few more left in their system to work out before the season fully heats up.

UW has a brief intermission before traveling to Anaheim to face Fresno State, Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 6:30 p.m. in the opening match of the Wooden Classic. 

Reach Sports Editor Ethan Kilbreath at Twitter: @EthanArles

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