SEATTLE – Markelle Fultz did not get his triple-double.
Little else needs to be said about Washington’s 92-58 drubbing of Northern Arizona on Sunday night. The Lumberjacks finished tied for last place in the Big Sky a year ago. They don’t have a player taller than 6-foot-7 in their starting lineup. They are 1-4. Their lone victory was against Benedictine Mesa, an NAIA school.
It is difficult, then, to derive meaning from this blowout victory, other than to repeat that Fultz is still very good. He led UW with 16 points on only nine field-goal attempts to go along with seven rebounds and a team-high eight assists in 30 minutes.
This was the star freshman’s third collegiate game. He scored 30 in his first, 35 in his second. UW coach Lorenzo Romar joked afterward that he would wager a pack of Red Vines, his favorite candy, that Fultz will eventually record a triple-double this season, and the 6-4 point guard seemed to be of that mind on Sunday, preferring to distribute rather than force his way to the rim.
“That’s the beauty of Markelle Fultz. He plays the game the right way,” Romar said. “He’s not out there trying to break records when he’s out there playing, or make sure that he solidifies his draft status. There’s no stress with him, in that regard. He’s just out there playing, trying to make us the best we can be.”
Washington (2-1) was closer to that benchmark than in its previous two games. The Huskies held NAU to 30.8 percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers, defensive numbers far better than what UW showed against Yale and Cal State Fullerton.
If the game were broken into four-minute segments, Romar said, the Huskies “kind of relaxed a little bit defensively” in only two of them.
“Aside from that, I thought we did a really good job of getting up, just trying to contest their passes and contesting their shots,” Romar said. “Still trying to improve on the defensive end.”
Unofficially, the game was over before it began. Officially, the Huskies initiated early garbage time with a 23-0 run that spanned about five minutes midway through the second half.
Matisse Thybulle dunked twice, the second an open-court slam following a steal. Fultz made a 3-pointer and another long jumper. Thybulle scored and drew a foul. He also made a 3-pointer.
The Huskies wanted to exploit their size advantage by feeding the ball to their big men and run their offense from the inside out, and they did that. But the key to their run was the way UW defended NAU’s post players. The Huskies wanted to deny passes into the high post in order to disrupt the Lumberjacks’ high-low game. When they did that, they either forced turnovers or bad shots that led to empty possessions.
“We started denying the big men when they came up to try to run the high-low and reverse the ball,” said sophomore forward Noah Dickerson, who scored 12 points and led the team with eight rebounds. “Once we started to do that, they didn’t run any offense. It was basically one-on-one or a ball screen, and that plays to our liking.”
UW’s lead was already 49-34 when the run began – the Huskies led 38-26 after a first half in which they shot only 40.5 percent from the field – but they pushed the margin as high as 38 points before the starters trekked to the bench and deep reserves played out the remaining minutes.
Thybulle finished with 15 points, his third double-figure effort of the season. Freshman guard Carlos Johnson made all five of his field-goal attempts and scored 11 points in 15 minutes, and sophomore guard David Crisp added 10 points. The Huskies wound up shooting 51.3 percent from the field thanks to a 63.6 percent clip in the second half.
Despite outrebounding the Lumberjacks 46-33, UW allowed NAU to grab 14 offensive boards, which Dickerson said were “14 too many.” And the defensive lapses to which Romar referred will cost the Huskies against better teams.
For now, though, they will consider this victory progress.
“There is more of a sense of urgency out there, and that means our team’s going to be better defensively,” Romar said. “There’s more of an awareness, there’s more of a want-to. There’s more pride. Still got a long ways to go. But we have definitely made improvement.”
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