Maybe the Washington Huskies are beginning to show the progress their coach insisted would manifest.
Maybe Seattle University simply isn’t very good.
Maybe those two are not mutually exclusive.
The Huskies have allowed a handful of midmajor opponents to bother them more than they should. They have lost to two of them. But the Huskies are certainly far better than the Redhawks, and they played like it Thursday night, parlaying an 11-point halftime lead into a dominant 94-72 victory before a crowd of 6,163 at KeyArena.
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Washington finished its nonconference schedule with a 7-5 record. It’s an unflattering mark for a team that aspires to make the NCAA Tournament but an improvement over its 4-5 start.
“We told our guys, ‘Tonight, we looked like a basketball team on the defensive end and the offensive end,’ ” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “And that hasn’t always been the case in this early season.”
Thursday’s effort was better, and not merely because the Huskies won. They won the way they should: building a 23-point lead early in the second half, crushing the Redhawks on the glass and overwhelming them with superior athleticism and skill.
Sophomore guard David Crisp played perhaps the most complete game of his career, scoring 16 points, handing out a career-best seven assists and grabbing five rebounds.
“He’s become a pretty reliable basketball player for us,” Romar said. “I didn’t say shooter. I said basketball player. Shooting comes with that. But he’s doing other things that have made himself more of a complete basketball player.”
Sophomore Noah Dickerson had a career night, too, scoring a game-high 21 points and pulling down a career-high 17 rebounds. The 6-foot-8 forward made 10-of-12 from the free-throw line, undeterred by 7-foot-3 SU center Aaron Menzies, who played only 21 minutes because of foul trouble.
“Dickerson, in terms of numbers, was phenomenal,” Romar said. “He’s gotten himself in great shape so he can play longer and get more done.”
UW limited Menzies, SU’s second-leading scorer, to nine points on 4-of-12 shooting.
“We were just hopeful that he wouldn’t get an angle,” Romar said. “He got an angle on us early, scored a basket. We were trying to keep our bodies between him and the rim.”
UW used a 16-2 run to build a 61-40 lead 4 minutes and 30 seconds into the second half. And SU (7-6) couldn’t catch up.
The Huskies closed the first half on a 9-0 run, capped by Dominic Green’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer that gave UW a 41-30 lead. They had trailed, 16-9, after the game’s first eight minutes, before Crisp made consecutive 3-pointers, Sam Timmins smashed a follow-up dunk and Crisp found Green for a transition dunk before making a free throw to tie the score 20-20.
Perhaps most impressive about UW’s first-half turnaround was that star guard Markelle Fultz spent nearly five consecutive minutes on the bench. He committed two fouls in the game’s first two minutes and eight seconds, stayed in the game for a while and then sat for four minutes and 37 seconds — quite a while for a player who averages 34.2 minutes per game and is the catalyst for everything UW wants to do offensively.
Crisp took control on that end instead, shooting and driving and dishing in a way UW would like to see more often. He scored 10 points in the first half, and helped the Huskies outscore the Redhawks 10-4 with Fultz on the bench.
“I think that’s the one thing he wants to improve in his game — just being an all-around player,” Fultz said. “I think he’s capable of doing it. He’s a great passer, a great finisher, a great shooter.”
Fultz still assembled an impressive highlight reel. He finished with 18 points and six assists, wowing the crowd with a pair of dunks via alley-oop passes from Crisp, a windmill dunk in transition and a pair of impressive chasedown blocks of SU layup attempts. Washington made 17-of-25 from the field in the second half, and assisted on 22 of its 31 made field goals against Seattle U’s zone defense.
“We shot 20 3-pointers. It’s easy to shoot 27 to 30 because they’re zoning you,” Romar said. “We went inside and out. We scored outside. We went inside. That’s the best way to try to attack a zone, from the inside out.”
Dickerson said, “We just knew the right ways to attack it and not settle for so many jump shots. When we do shoot jump shots, make it come off an assist — drive and kick, stuff like that.”
The Huskies played better defense, too, holding Seattle U to 38.6 percent shooting from the field and scoring 18 points off the Redhawks’ 15 turnovers.
UW has nine days off before its Pac-12 opener Jan. 1 against Washington State. The Huskies enter that game playing their best basketball of the season. But not the best of which they believe they are capable.
“We’re improving,” Fultz said. “But I don’t think we’re where we should be.”
“We’re getting there,” Dickerson said. “I think there’s even more to us that you guys don’t even know.”
Game in review
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Noah Dickerson played the best game of his collegiate career, scoring a game-high 21 points to go along with a career-best 17 rebounds. He has turned into a reliable free-throw shooter, too, making 10 of 12, and is cementing his status as UW’s best post player.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Maybe one of Markelle Fultz’s three, second-half dunks — two off alley-oop passes from David Crisp, and one off a steal that led to a casual windmill slam with UW already up big.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Huskies assisted on 22 of their 31 made field goals, an encouraging number against a zone defense.
QUOTABLE: “I will stick with the word progress. I think we have made progress. As I said before, I thought we made progress in the Nevada game in a loss. It’s been coming. I thought our last game before tonight, it was more evident, and tonight, I thought it was very evident that this team is making progress.” — UW coach Lorenzo Romar
WHAT IT MEANS: Like their victory two days ago over Cal Poly, the Huskies aren’t going to convince anyone they’re ready for NCAA tournament competition just by beating Seattle U. But this was, after all, a 22-point victory in a building that wasn’t their own, and they played their most complete game of the season. That counts for something.
UP NEXT: Washington vs. Washington State, 5:30 p.m. Jan. 1 (ESPNU)