Washington took the floor at Alaska Airlines Arena for the first time this season on Thursday night, finishing with an 87-63 exhibition game victory over Western Washington.
It was the debut of a new-look Huskies team that lost four starters and five out of its top six scorers from last season. UW is loaded with talent despite the losses, bringing in a top-10 recruiting class that included two five-star freshmen in Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart.
Since the Huskies traveled to Italy, they’ll only play one exhibition game. They’ll now turn their attention to next week’s regular-season opener against No. 16 Baylor. Until then, here’s what we learned Thursday night.
Jamal Bey, a spark off the bench
It was a little surprising not to see sophomore Jamal Bey in the starting lineup. But he still led the Huskies in scoring, finishing with 20 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-5 from the 3-point line. He also had four assists and five steals.
“It felt good,” Bey said of his shooting. “It’s just constant reps. They just fell tonight.”
Afterward, head coach Mike Hopkins was asked whether Bey had done enough to turn himself a spot as a starter. But Hopkins praised Bey’s ability to set the tone coming off the bench. He also likes bringing in a player who can play multiple guard positions.
That’s particularly true without point guard Quade Green, a former five-star recruit who transferred from Kentucky. Unless Green’s eligibility waiver is approved, he won’t be able to play until Dec . 17. Until then, Bey will be splitting point guard duties with sophomore Elijah Hardy, who is currently starting, and freshman Marcus Tsohonis.
“I just brought energy,” Bey said. “We don’t worry about who starts, who plays all the minutes. We just worry about getting energy on the floor at all times. That’s what I try to do, no matter if I start or come off the bench.”
Bey played his best toward the end of last season. After struggling with his confidence early, he started to hit his stride in the Pac-12 championship game loss to Oregon when he scored seven points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field. In the second round of the NCAA Tournament against North Carolina, he scored six points. Bey averaged 5.0 points over the final three games of the season after not scoring in his previous four games.
On Thursday, he picked up right where he left off — and then some. Coming into the season, one of the question marks surrounding the Huskies was the lack of a reliable shooter. Bey could provide an answer, but he’ll have to prove he can perform consistently.
“The coaching staff did a great job,” Hopkins said. “Last year was really frustrating for him for a long period of time and our staff just kept working with him, talking to him, building his confidence. He just kept getting better and better. He was actually really, really productive in the most meaningful games against the best competition. It was just a translation of all that hard work. He’s comfortable.”
Size and athleticism
It’s one thing to look at the roster and see nine players who are at least 6-foot-9.
It’s another thing to see it on the floor.
The Huskies started one of their smaller lineups — Stewart (6-9), McDaniels (6-9), Hameir Wright (6-9), Nahziah Carter (6-6) and Hardy (6-2) — and that’s mind-boggling all on its own. When they really wanted to go big, four of the players on the floor were at least 6-foot-9. Not many teams are going to have success trying to get inside when Stewart and Nate Roberts (6-10) are playing together.
This team was made to play in Hopkins’ two-three zone. And while he wasn’t completely happy with their defense — Western Washington hit eight three-pointers in the second half — UW did force 22 turnovers and finished with 12 steals. Even during practice, McDaniels said, the Huskies’ length makes him think twice about going inside.
“When you can hold hands and go from sideline to sideline, Hopkins said at media day earlier this month, “that’s a lot of coverage.”
McDaniels, a five-star freshman, was particularly impressive defensively. He finished three steals and a block, and his wingspan allowed him to take up an extraordinary amount of space.
“It kind of makes it easier with my length,” McDaniels said. “I can kind of guard two people at the same time.”
UW also opened in man-to-man defense, a rare occurrence for a Hopkins’ coached team. While Hopkins said the Huskies will play both zone and man-to-man this season, it will be interesting to see how much he mixes it up moving forward.
“We work on it in practice every day, both man and zone,” Bey said. “We’re ready for anything.”
Stewart and McDaniels live up to the hype
Thursday’s game provided the first in-person glimpse of five-star freshmen Stewart and McDaniels. Stewart finished with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds, three offensive.
“He’s going to be as consistent as any player in America,” Hopkins said of Stewart. “You got in there and he’s getting banged and hit. Last week, he practiced so hard. I got to do a good job managing because he plays so hard. I got to keep him rested and in and out of the game. He just does everything right.”
McDaniels had 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“He’s so unselfish,” Hopkins said. “They only have him for three assists. I think he had more. He made so many just good plays, helping each other, extra passes. Defensively, he flies around. He’s got a great IQ.”
Both Stewart and McDaniels excelled in transition. Stewart runs the floor extremely well for a big man, and there aren’t many players who are going to step in front of him. That resulted in a pair of fastbreak dunks early. McDaniels also had several dunks in transition, including a one-handed slam off a steal late in the first half.
“We just give it to (Stewart) and let him do what he does,” Bey said. “Destroy the rim.”