With Pac-12 play around the corner, this is supposed to be a breather week for the University of Washington men’s basketball team.
And it started Tuesday night against an opponent that has only been to the NAIA and NCAA Division II national tournament in its history — Bethune-Cookman University.
Threatening to break out to big leads much of the first half, the Huskies finally did after halftime — and easily handled the Wildcats, 106-55, at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
The Huskies poured in 63 points and shot a blistering 73.5 percent (25 for 34) after the break, while holding BCU to just 19 points and 20 percent.
David Crisp and Dominic Green led UW with 18 points apiece. Jaylen Nowell chipped in with 15.
With their ninth win of the season before Christmas, the UW (9-3) has already matched its season total in victories from a year ago.
“You can just really feel the team chemistry and how close everybody is — how together everybody is,” Crisp said. “Nobody is going out in the game thinking, ‘I’ve got to go get mine.’ Everybody is like, ‘What can I do to contribute to get this win?’ Once you put the egos aside, and put the team first, you’d be amazed what you can accomplish.”
The Huskies have had down-to-the-wire victories already this season against the likes of Belmont (86-82), Seattle University (89-84), UC Davis (77-70) and Loyola Marymount (80-77) on Sunday. A drama-free blowout victory was much-appreciated by first-year coach Mike Hopkins and his staff.
What has become evident over the first six weeks is that the Huskies are starting to feel much more comfortable playing Hopkins’ 2-3 zone on defense, moving with much more pace and ferocity.
They forced seven Bethune-Cookman (5-8) turnovers in the first 11 minutes, blocked six shots in the first half and built a 25-12 lead at the 8:22 mark.
You could easily excuse the Wildcats for a slow start. On Sunday, they were sitting in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ready to head to Seattle when the power went out. After two days worth of delays, many of their players did not arrive in town until three hours before tipoff.
But this is a crazy-shooting squad that Bethune-Cookman has, and the visitors hit 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions to eventually cut it to 35-34 with 3:06 remaining in the first half before Nowell sparked a late 8-2 response to close the half.
“First half, I feel we gambled a lot, and go out of position,” Crisp said. “In the second half, we had to stay solid. That is when (the turnovers) started coming to us.”
In the second half, UW made sure to pick up its defensive pressure again. It turned Bethune-Cookman over seven times in the first five minutes.
And that led to easy buckets for the Huskies in transition, led by Nowell, who had a dunk, then converted a three-point play after losing the ball going up, then tipping it in anyway after being fouled.
Crisp hit two 3-pointers in the first 3:52, the last giving the Huskies a 56-42 lead at the 16:08 mark.
Overall, the Huskies finished with 15 blocked shots, and forced a season-high 24 turnovers, with 16 coming on steals.
“(The zone defense) is more natural now,” UW post player Sam Timmins said. “I am not at the point where I am thinking, ‘Where to I have to be?’ It is happening ... In that second half, we showed how good it can be.”
The Wildcats, out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, were 10-22 last season.