A 13-point lead in the first half nearly proved insufficient in Washington’s attempts to match its best start in five years Sunday night.
But the Huskies repelled UTEP in the final minute for a 68-65 victory that enabled them to win the Wooden Legacy basketball tournament at the Honda Center.
The Huskies (6-0) equaled the 2009-10 squad’s record after its first six games. It also provided confidence one month before the Pac-12 Conference schedule starts.
“I feel like we can play with anyone in the country,” Huskies guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. “We had played pretty well at home and were 3-0 going into the tournament. We felt this was going to be our first true test to see how well we stacked up against some of the top teams around the country.
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“We still have some work to get done. We’re giving up too many offensive rebounds and we still have to find our offensive rhythm. But we feel that we are only going to keep getting better.”
Williams-Goss collected 16 points, six assists and two steals, received the award as the tournament’s most outstanding player — and made a little tournament history.
The sophomore set a tournament record with 26 assists, amassing 12 of them Friday night in an 80-70 win against Long Beach State to establish a career high and a single-game standard for the tournament. Guard Andrew Andrews led the Huskies with 20 points and also made the all-tournament team.
“Andrew is not bashful,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “That’s how he plays right now and that’s what you expect from your leaders. When his shot wasn’t falling, he continued to take good open 3-pointers.”
UW built a 13-point lead in the first half but the Miners (4-1) moved ahead, 61-57, with 3 minutes, 47 seconds to play. Andrews made a 3-point basket to narrow the deficit to one point, then UW sophomore Robert Upshaw made a pivotal defensive play on UTEP’s ensuing possession.
Upshaw, a 7-foot sophomore, blocked Matt Willms’ layup attempt and secured the rebound. Williams-Goss followed with a one-handed floater that gave the Huskies a 62-61 lead with 2:27 remaining.
The Miners regained a 63-62 advantage on Julian Washburn’s jumper. But while trying to rebound a missed shot, UTEP’s Vince Hunter bounced the ball off his foot and out of bounds with 1:07 to go.
Mike Anderson’s two free throws with 48.3 seconds to go put UW ahead, 64-63. Andrews then made his biggest contributions by rebounding Washburn’s missed 3-point attempt and converting two ensuing free throws after Hunter fouled him to extend the Huskies’ lead to 66-63 with 24.3 seconds remaining.
“UTEP is very predictable,” Romar said. “They have a team full of junkyard dogs and they are going to play hard. In the second half, they imposed their will on us early. They make you play at a frenetic pace because they are so aggressive. Our guys did a good job maintaining their composure down the stretch.”
UW’s Jernard Jarreau added 10 points and eight rebounds. For UTEP, Hunter finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, Washburn contributed 17 points and Cedrick Lang scored 14 points.