Since I last talked about the Huskies, they’ve since beaten a ranked Oklahoma team (then at #15) and a one-loss Tulane team, AND are now the 13th-ranked team in the country (so, yeah, I’m going to keep writing about them, as I know we can do better with the home sellouts).
Saturday’s neutral floor battle with the Sooners at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas was a thrilling up-and-down affair. The Huskies grabbed a lead about three minutes in and never relinquished it. The lead would balloon to 20 points in the first half before the Sooners closed to within 13 at half. It was the best I’ve ever seen this team play this year, at the best possible time. When the Huskies are playing their style of defense AND hitting jumpers at the other end? Watch out, Pac-12, because you’ve got some trouble on your hands.
In the second half, the Sooners really walked back that 13-point advantage we had. Slowly but surely, eating away at chunks; they’d get some, we’d grab some back, they’d go a little deeper, we’d push back. All the way down to two points, with the ball in hand. With three minutes left, Oklahoma had the possession that may have sealed the contest. No less than THREE offensive rebounds off of missed shots, but they couldn’t convert. That allowed us to go down and have NWG hit a jumper to bring the game back to four points. They hit a free throw, Upshaw missed a BUNCH of free throws, then, they hit a jumper to pull to within a single point.
As close as you can get, but no dice. After getting the ball back following a Husky miss, they had a final possession with under 20 seconds to go. They got a decent-looking shot, but it looked rushed overall (and was certainly not shot by one of their star players) and it clanged around before Andrews picked up the rebound with less than a second to go. He hit a free throw and intentionally missed the second to bring about the 2-point margin.
I know the story of that game right now is “Huskies Blow 20-Point Lead, Hold On For Dear Life”, but as long as Oklahoma can continue winning, all anyone is going to see at the end of the season is the ranked Huskies defeating another ranked team on a neutral floor. THAT should be the story. Yeah, that’s a pretty big fucking lead, but it was early in the game, and frankly, good teams are able to come back from large deficits all the time! Hell, you’ll see these very Huskies come back from similar deficits at points this year, so don’t piss your pants or anything.
That single game vaulted the Huskies three spots in the national rankings to 13th. Not for nothing, but we’re officially one spot ahead of Utah, who has been well-regarded since the first sets of rankings came out.
Last night, two days after that draining victory in Vegas, the Huskies were back home to take on the Tulane Green Wave. I’m happy to say I got to see this one in person. Baby steps with the whole attendance issue, but considering it’s a holiday week, I’ll take it. Hell, we nudged across the 7,000 barrier for the first time all year!
What those seven grand & change witnessed was some sloppy-ass basketball, but that’s a Glass Half Empty perspective. I much prefer the stance that this team is making some real adjustments at halftime for the first time since I can remember. Tulane was 5 of 10 from behind the arc in the first half and finished the game 7 of 17. Meaning: we played better perimeter defense and funnelled them into the paint.
Where we’ve got Mr. Upshaw, who finished with 11 points 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks. I said it before and I’ll say it again: he’s destined to get a triple double this year where blocks are part of the “triple”.
Shawn Kemp was an alley-oop machine in this game, where we’re pretty sure at least six of his seven made baskets were dunks. He finished with a game-high 16 points. NWG was the only other Husky in double-figures with 14 points to go along with 9 assists.
Turnovers and rebounding were problematic. 18 turnovers in total, which is too many. But, part of that can be explained away by fatigue (having travelled back & played a basketball game two days prior) and a simple lapse in the mental aspect of the game. Coming off of an important game against a ranked opponent, to face a nothing school (at least, as far as RPI is concerned, I think Tulane is somewhere around 160), just a few days before Christmas where most of the campus is a ghost town. The important thing, again, is just getting the win. Avoiding losses against bad opponents is almost as vital as getting wins against impressive opponents when it comes to Tourney Time.
More important than turnovers, is the rebounding issue. Tulane had 16 offensive rebounds to keep them in this game for most of it. Overall, they out-rebounded us 36-33, which is simply unacceptable. Teams are averaging a little over 13 offensive rebounds per game this year, which ultimately is going to bite us in the ass. Granted, part of that is due to Upshaw blocking the world, but a lot of that is simply being out-hustled. You could see it against Tulane – who, while talented, is probably closer to Grambling State on the basketball spectrum – as they just wanted it more. They were crashing the boards and catching guys like Jarreau flat-footed on more than one occasion.
I’m sure it’s something they notice and are working on, but it’s their one major flaw. If the Huskies can clean up some of the rebounding issues, this team is LEGIT. Certainly worthy of their #13 ranking, as this is the best Husky team I’ve seen in nearly a decade.
The next game’s against Stony Brook on Sunday at 5pm (on the Pac-12 Network), so you won’t hear me badgering you about not paying attention to this team until after Christmas at least. Stony Brook marks the end of conference play. They’re not very good at much of anything, but it looks like they rebound well, so keep an eye on that. We win that one, we’re perfect in non-conference and don’t play again until the following Friday on the road against Cal.
We’re ramping up! Jump on the bandwagon while there’s still room!