Huskies survive CS Fullerton, 74-72
SEATTLE – Christmas came three weeks early for the Huskies.
The consistent effort depleted Washington needs to overcome its injuries? That came way later Sunday evening. But ultimately, fortunately, not too late.
Desmond Simmons rescued UW from an ugly, first-half snooze with a career-high 18 rebounds to go with a career high-tying 14 points.
“That was Jon Brockman-esque,” grateful coach Lorenzo Romar said — and indeed it was the most rebounds for a Husky since Brockman against Purdue in the second round of the 2009 NCAA tournament.
But it took two inexplicable fouls by Cal State Fullerton, each 90 feet from the basket, each with the score tied in the final 30 seconds, to seal Washington’s fortunate, 74-72 victory at relieved Alaska Airlines Arena.
Andrew Andrews made three of four free throws and C.J. Wilcox made two more gift ones – all in the final frantic 21 seconds. Hikeem Stewart had a big steal on a deflected pass with 13 seconds to keep UW ahead by 2.
Then he and his Huskies then watched Fullerton’s Alex Harris — a first cousin of Simmons on his mother’s side — miss a rushed 3-pointer from about 30 feet away at the buzzer.
So ended the rally for Washington (4-3) from 14 points down for its second consecutive win.
Senior co-captain Scott Suggs and low-post force Shawn Kemp Jr. were still out injured. Then painful leg cramps forced senior co-captain Abdul Gaddy to the bench for the final 5 minutes.
Romar called it a “big win” because the Huskies were just trying to get by before Suggs and Kemp attempt to return to practice this week in advance of Saturday’s home game against Nevada.
Get by is exactly what they did.
“It was a scrappy win,” Wilcox said with a wry smile after his almost, quiet 21-point night on 7-for-21 shooting. “They definitely gave us opportunities to get it done, fouling us late in the game. We took advantage of the opportunities.
“But we came out in the first half really slow.”
As in, almost stopped.
The Huskies played sleepy zone defense and allowed far too many offensive rebounds by the smaller Titans (3-3), who lost by 13 at Stanford last month. Washington also missed 21 of its first 30 shots and was behind from the first minute of the game until 4:23 remained in it, when Simmons hit a runner in the lane.
“(That’s why) I don’t like starting out in zone,” Romar said after doing it for one of his only times at UW.
He has been going to that defense more lately over his preferred man-to-man, to take advantage of this being the tallest and longest of his 11 Washington teams.
Simmons sparked the second-half rally from the first possession after the break. He got two offensive rebounds – five fewer than the entire team had in the first 20 minutes – then made two free throws. He had three of his 18 rebounds in the first minute after halftime.
“Everyone was just looking for someone to step up,” Romar said. “And he was the one who stepped up.
“He’s the consummate glue guy. The consummate intangible guy. … He gets stuff done.”
Sunday Andrews did, too. When the fearless redshirt freshman, running the offense with Gaddy bent over in pain on the sidelines, bulled his way into the lane with a hard dribble for a deft assist on a two-handed dunk by Aziz N’Diaye, UW led 67-65 with 2:57 remaining. Egged on by N’Diaye’s fist-pumping, the previously silent home crowd of 7,200 awakened with roars over the Huskies’ first lead since 2-0.
That capped a 30-15 run that got UW back from 13 down with 17 minutes left. Fullerton, with 13 transfers on a 17-man roster and an interim head coach, finally cooled off in its shooting – in the same span Washington ditched that zone for a far more active man-to-man defense.
The lead stayed at two until Stewart deflected a pass by D.J. Seeley, a transfer from California, for a Titans turnover with 13 seconds to go. Andrews made one of two free throws while in the double bonus to make it 72-69 Huskies. Fullerton’s Harris tied the game at 72 with a 3-pointer with 7 seconds left.
But then Seeley, apparently not realizing Harris’ shot was a 3 that tied it and not a 2 to keep his team behind, fouled Wilcox with a back hug just inside the baseline opposite the Huskies’ basket with just 3 seconds remaining.
Wilcox calmly swished both truly charity shots for the winning points.
Wilcox missed 11 of his 14 field goals in the first half as UW fell behind 17-4 right away. The opening 20 minutes were so bad, the Huskies gave walk-on sophomore guard Quinn Sterling of Mercer Island, Wash., the first playing time of his career late in the half to invigorate the team.
It worked. Sterling immediately forced a Titans turnover. He then turned to the Dawg Pack students’ section and roared. His former colleagues roared back, providing the most noise of the otherwise snoozing half.
“Quinn got on the floor without any hesitancy. That’s him,” Romar said of another potential “glue guy” who has been slowed early this season by a stress fracture in his foot.
As for the current, dependable glue guy, Simmons almost blushed over his coach comparing him to Brockman.
UW’s rugged all-time rebounding leader, a recent Milwaukee Buck and Houston Rocket, is now playing professionally in France.
“Oh, that’s a HUGE compliment,” Simmons said after his career night. “Played against `Brock,’ he is a load to rebound against. So getting a compliment like that means a lot me.”