SEATTLE – Seated courtside on Thursday night, the Seattle basketball legends chatted and laughed, and drew a small crowd of autograph seekers and cell-phone photographers at halftime and after the game.
There was Shawn Kemp, father of the Washington Huskies forward by the same name. And Gary Payton, father of the Oregon State Beavers guard by the same name. Their sons shared a court on Thursday for the first time. And the dads were later accompanied at their seats by Sam “Big Smooth” Perkins, another ex-teammate whose presence at Hec Edmundson Pavilion sparked memories of better days for the Seattle SuperSonics.
After Kemp and Payton received an obligatory ovation following an appearance on the arena’s video screen, the UW student section recognized the occasion with a familiar chant: “Save our Sonics.”
First, someone had to save the Huskies, who played this game without starting 6-foot-10 forward Jernard Jarreau, who could miss four to six weeks with a right knee injury that will require arthroscopic surgery on Friday.
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But with a revitalized defensive effort and enough points in the second half to overcome a wretched first, Washington snapped its four-game losing streak with a 56-43 victory over Oregon State before a crowd of 6,663.
Seven-foot center Robert Upshaw was the primary catalyst, scoring 12 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking six shots – which established UW’s single-season blocks record. It was 67, shared by Christian Welp and David Dixon. Upshaw now has 72 through just 16 games.
He dismissed that achievement afterward, saying again that he’s only happy if Washington wins, which the Huskies finally did for the first since Dec. 22, and the first time in Pac-12 play.
“We got one,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “It was a team effort. I thought our guys did a good job of executing on the defensive end. There were not a whole lot of missed assignments on the defensive end. We went back and forth from a zone to a man, and our guys really didn’t miss a beat.”
But they did miss shots against OSU’s tenacious zone defense – in the first half, at least. After Donaven Dorsey capped an 11-0 run with a 3-pointer to give the Huskies a 15-10 lead with 10:46 to play, the Huskies didn’t score again until the 1:14 mark – a stretch of nine minutes, 32 seconds without a bucket.
The Beavers (11-5, 2-2 in Pac-12) weren’t any better. They tied the score, 15-15, with 7:34 left in the first half, then didn’t score again until 21 seconds into the second half. And that was after they went eight minutes, seven seconds between baskets earlier in the game.
Romar said UW (12-4, 1-3) played more zone than usual to compensate for Jarreau’s absence.
“We got timid,” OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said, “because of the big fella in there.”
All the while, though, OSU’s zone defense, which featured the long arms of guards Payton II and Langston Morris-Walker, forced UW into long possessions, turnovers and contested shots.
Without Jarreau’s height in the high post, the Huskies struggled to throw passes inside.
“It felt like they covered a lot of ground,” said junior guard Andrew Andrews, who scored 12 points but did not start due to what Romar called a miscommunication for shootaround. “Once we got acclimated to it, it made it a little easier to find the shooters and the bigs.”
Such ugliness yielded a 19-15 halftime score in UW’s favor. Each team finished the half with more turnovers than made field goals.
The Huskies found separation thereafter.
A quick 8-0 run spurred by 3-pointers from Andrews and senior guard Mike Anderson, who finished with 11 points, made it 36-29 with 11:41 to play. OSU didn’t trim that deficit below five points for the rest of the game.
The dagger was probably Anderson’s 3-pointer with 2:51 to play that made the score 49-41. The Beavers went the final 3:22 without a field goal.
Romar has been urging Anderson to be more aggressive with the ball since he arrived as a junior-college transfer last season. He shot 3-for-6 from 3-point range on Thursday, and helped the Huskies shoot 52.6 percent from the field in the second half. OSU shot just 31.9.
“It was just me being confident with my shot,” Anderson said. “The coaches, my teammates telling me to shoot the ball. I just felt like I had my spots and I knocked it down.”
Kemp added eight points for UW, and Payton scored four points on 1-for-7 shooting for the Beavers. He also had eight rebounds, plus a pair of highlight-reel blocked shots from behind in transition, and finished with four total.
Their famous fathers attracted plenty of attention throughout. Romar joked that he was tempted to step over and say hello to Perkins. At halftime, he glanced toward the former Sonics seated across from the Huskies bench.
“(They) all were just kind of chopping it up, as they say,” Romar said. “Whether they were reminiscing or teasing each other, whatever they were doing, they seemed like they were having a good time.”
So did the Huskies, even if Thursday night’s action didn’t quite resemble what went down at KeyArena in the mid-90s.
NOTE: The Huskies also played without sophomore guard Darin Johnson, who is day-to-day with a strained quadriceps. Romar said Johnson could play Sunday against Oregon.
PLAYER OF THE GAME – Robert Upshaw didn’t quite impose his will on the Beavers, but he was still the best player on the floor. Upshaw played 37 minutes and scored 12 points to go along with 15 points and six blocked shots. He now owns UW’s single-season blocks record with 14 regular-season games remaining.
STAT OF THE GAME – Oregon State suffered separate stretches in the first half of eight minutes, seven seconds and seven minutes, 34 seconds without a field goal. Add that up, and that’s a total of 15 minutes, 41 seconds without scoring.
IT WAS OVER WHEN – Mike Anderson made a 3-pointer to give the Huskies a 49-41 lead with 2:51 to play. The way UW was defending – and OSU was shooting – the Beavers weren’t going to make up that margin.
QUOTABLE – “We just need to get after it in practice. That’s when it starts. We can’t have any off days. We can’t have guys branched out. We’ve just got to put it together and work hard and we’ll be fine.” – Robert Upshaw on playing without Jarreau
WHAT IT MEANS – After losing four consecutive games, the Huskies simply couldn’t afford to lose this one. They won it by doing what they did best during an 11-game winning streak to start the season: playing defense. And on this night, they did just enough damage from the 3-point line to avoid a tight finish in the final minutes. Still, better offensive teams than OSU await the Huskies in Pac-12 play. They must improve offensively to evolve.
UP NEXT – Oregon at Washington, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 18 (ESPNU).
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple