University of Washington

Big men lead Huskies to 77-59 win in opener

Big men had big games as the Washington Huskies opened their basketball season with a 77-59 romp past South Carolina State on Friday night.

How big? Big enough for coach Lorenzo Romar to draw comparisons to previous towering combinations, including Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes.

Seven-foot center Robert Upshaw came off the bench for seven blocks, tying a school record, in his regular-season debut for UW after transferring from Fresno State, while 6-9 senior Shawn Kemp Jr. led all scorers with 17 points.

“Those guys gave us a lot,” Romar said. “Shawn was very aggressive. You could see that he was meeting passes, holding on to the basketball, going to the basket strong. And Rob, with his length, did a good job around the rim, and my goodness, what a rim protector he was tonight with seven blocked shots and more altered shots as a result of him being there. It has been a luxury to have those guys perform like they have been performing.”

Romar was asked if he’s had this kind of luxury before.

“Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman,” he said. “I remember a game against LSU here where they were probably more productive than even these guys here tonight. But not many. There were nights when Aziz N’Diaye and Matthew Bryan-Amaning combined to dominate games. But over the 13 years here, there hasn’t been many performances like those guys had tonight.”

South Carolina State is a school with an enrollment of 3,200 in Orangeburg, South Carolina. The Bulldogs (0-1) play in the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference and are in a bit of a down cycle, going 10-22, 5-25 and 9-20 over the past three seasons.

The Huskies needed only about five minutes to grow their lead into double digits – 12-2. However, any thoughts of an instant blowout sputtered as the Bulldogs used the next five minutes to cut the deficit to three.

Then Washington created distance again with a 12-0 run, stretching a 20-17 lead to 32-17.

“Coach told us we had to play with more energy,” Kemp said. “We were letting them hang with us for a second there, but we regrouped and pushed away.”

Washington won its sixth consecutive season opener and 12th in a row when opening the season at home.

Guard Karon Wright led South Carolina State with 14 points.

The Huskies dominated the boards, 51-37, and had eight blocks to the Bulldogs’ zero.

Amid the big men’s attention-grabbing performance, guard Nigel Williams-Goss contributed 12 rebounds and 10 points but fell three assists short of his first collegiate triple-double.

“That’s my goal, actually, every time I step on the floor is to try to get a triple-double,” he said. “Because to do that, that’s an energy thing. Energy is a big thing that we try to bring every time we step on the floor.”

UW struggled with shooting at the free-throw line and 3-point arc, going 3 for 21 on 3-pointers (14.3 percent) and 10 for 17 on free throws (58.8).

“You guys are going to think I’m making this up, but I know we’re a better shooting team than we showed tonight and against Saint Martin’s,” Romar said. “… We rarely go a practice where we don’t shoot the ball well, bottom line.”

Some of the players indicated part of the problem might have been what they called “an extremely cold gym,” with an announced crowd of 2,898 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

“I don’t remember us having that low of a crowd in years past,” Romar said. “We don’t play here again until Dec. 7 against San Diego State and I would be shocked if the crowd isn’t much better.”

Washington returns to action at 7 p.m. Friday, meeting Seattle University at KeyArena.