SEATTLE – Each time Stefan Nastic lowered his shoulder on Wednesday night and moved a Washington Huskies defender out of the way, then made a hook shot or a layup or a short jumper, a reminder was issued.
The Huskies miss Robert Upshaw. And if Stanford’s 84-74 defeat of the Huskies – it wasn’t that close, either – before a deflated crowd of 6,832 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion provided an accurate forecast for the rest of the season, they’re going to keep on missing him.
Then again, everybody already knew that. Upshaw, dismissed from the program on Monday for violating team rules, set UW’s single-season blocks record – he had 85 in just 19 games – and his 7-foot presence inspired hesitation among opponents who otherwise might try to attack the rim.
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Well, this is what otherwise looks like. Nastic, a 6-foot-11 center who was repeatedly rejected by Upshaw the first time these teams played on Jan. 4 – a 68-60 Cardinal victory in overtime – dominated on Wednesday night with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting in 25 minutes.
He scored 15 in the first half, punishing the bodies of Shawn Kemp Jr. and Gilles Dierickx, relishing the massive, irreplaceable void Upshaw’s absence has left in the middle of UW’s defense. The Huskies have only two healthy forwards available – Jernard Jarreau is out at least another two weeks with a knee injury – and at times, they played with five guards. They started four.
And it wasn’t just Nastic who enjoyed the Upshaw-less interior. As a team, Stanford finished with 34 points in the paint, and had 20 at halftime. It had just 18, total, in its first game against UW – and that one lasted 45 minutes.
“What we could see that was pretty evident, is we had gotten away a little bit from really containing the basketball,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They drove us several times to the rim, and we were accustomed to guys having a tough time once they got to the rim. But we don’t have that on that level. So we’ve got to tighten up on defending the perimeter.”
The Cardinal (15-5, 6-2 in Pac-12) were led in scoring by Anthony Brown, who made 3-of-4 from 3-point range and 12-of-15 from the free-throw line to finish with 23 points. Chasson Randle, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, added 20.
“We’ve just got to keep guys out of the lane,” said UW point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who led UW with 17 points but committed six of his team’s 13 turnovers. “We don’t have as much rim protection now, so we’ve just got to do a better job keeping players away from the hoop.”
Not that UW’s offense was much better. The Huskies made nine field goals (on 26 attempts) and committed eight turnovers in the first half, after which they trailed, 36-24, thanks to a 7-0 Cardinal run in the final one minute and 13 seconds.
They ultimately shot 48.2 percent from the field for the game, and 60 percent in the second half as they cut Stanford’s lead in semi-garbage time.
But the game was decided shortly after halftime. Fewer than three minutes into the second half, Stanford was up 44-26. Consecutive 3-pointers by Brown, Rosco Allen and Brown again made it 53-27 with just less than 15 minutes left, and that margin was simply too much to overcome.
The Huskies (14-6, 3-5 in Pac-12) tried. They poured in a few 3-pointers to help trim the deficit to 10 points in the final minute, making this one look closer than it felt. Five Huskies finished in double-figures in scoring – Williams-Goss (17 points), Mike Anderson (16), Kemp (12), Darin Johnson (10) and Quevyn Winters (13).
But many of those points were scored with Stanford leading comfortably. Without Upshaw, the Cardinal’s size and depth proved overwhelming. Washington now has three days before it hosts California (12 p.m. Sunday), which means it has three days to figure out how to play better with a four or five-guard lineup.
“We’ve just got to practice,” Andrews said. “We only really had one day of practice, coming in, preparing, getting ready for things. Losing a player kind of changed the whole momentum we had going. So we have a couple days to prepare for Cal, and kind of get used to this new way we’re doing things, with four guards out on the perimeter. We’ve just got to adjust.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME – Stanford center Stefan Nastic dominated against UW’s smaller frontcourt, scoring 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He took full advantage of Robert Upshaw’s absence, simply taking his defender 1-on-1 with his back to the basket and scoring most of the time. And while he wasn’t his team’s leading scorer – Anthony Brown and Chasson Randle each scored more – his 15 first-half points set the tone.
IT WAS OVER WHEN – The Cardinal ripped off a 17-3 run to start the second half, taking a 26-point lead with just less than 15 minutes remaining. Washington didn’t really have a chance after that.
STAT OF THE GAME – After scoring just 18 points in the paint in a 68-60 overtime victory over UW on Jan. 4, the Cardinal finished with 34 points in the paint on Wednesday night – and 20 in the first half alone.
QUOTABLE – “To be honest, Rob didn’t play 40 minutes. We used to start the game without Rob. So we know how to play. Obviously, Rob’s a great player and we’re going to miss him, but what we want to do and what we’re capable of, we can do going forward.” – UW point guard Nigel Williams-Goss
WHAT IT MEANS – The Huskies will likely play better after they have a few days to adjust to life without Upshaw, but the debut wasn’t pretty. They’re vulnerable defensively, they’re weak on the backboards, and they’re so small offensively that opponents no longer need to worry about a dual-pronged post attack. UW doesn’t shoot well enough to compensate for that. Lots to fix, and little time to do it.
UP NEXT – California at Washington, 12 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 1 (Pac-12 Networks)
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple