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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Keion Brooks Jr. earns MVP as Washington men beat Saint Mary’s in OT to win Wooden Legacy

Percy Allen Seattle Times

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Keion Brooks Jr. backed down a defender before turning and draining a midrange jumper in the final minute for one of the biggest shots in one of the Huskies’ biggest wins in recent years — a 68-64 overtime victory over Saint Mary’s in the Wooden Legacy championship game.

Brooks, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, walked away with the tournament MVP trophy, but there were plenty of heroes for the Washington men’s basketball team in a late Thanksgiving slugfest that was decided shortly before midnight at the Anaheim Convention Center.

“Four people in double figures, but that’s just the scoring part,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “The thing that I loved was the multiple efforts and loose-ball plays that you have to make to win the game.”

Before Brooks’ big shot, freshman guard Koren Johnson drained a clutch three-pointer in the extra period.

Then center Braxton Meah, a 67% free-throw shooter, drained two foul shots that gave UW the lead with 1:18 left.

And at the other end, Meah blocked a shot and secured the rebound, which allowed PJ Fuller II to secure the win with a pair of free throws for a 67-62 lead with 15 seconds left.

The Huskies, who led for more than 28 minutes, also needed an improbable comeback late in regulation that included a miraculous shot from Brooks who somehow rattled in a short jumper while falling to the floor.

“God was with me on that one,” Brooks said. “I just knew that we were in the bonus. I was trying to be aggressive going to the rim. I got to the middle lane and kind of slipped. I had to get it up to the rim to let Franck (Kepnang) or Braxton have a chance to rebound. And God laid it in for me.”

Washington also needed Fuller’s three-point play — a contested layup and free throw — that tied it at 58-58 with 52 seconds left in the second half.

“I’m really proud of these guys,” Hopkins said. “It took lot of grit, a lot of toughness and togetherness. These guys showed up. Saint Mary’s is a championship program and one of the best defenses in the country.

“I thought we had one of our better defensive nights. … I’m really proud of our guys.”

The way Washington played defense in the first half, it looked as if the Huskies were using 10 players to stretch an impenetrable zone defense that neutralized a SMU offense that came into the game averaging 73.8 points while shooting 46.9% from the floor and 42.2% on three-pointers.

The Huskies surrounded Gaels leading scorer Mitchell Saxen, who played at Ingraham High in Seattle, inside and held him to eight of his game-high 19 points in the first half while disrupting SMU’s perimeter attack, which missed 11 of 13 three-pointers.

Washington led 28-22 at the break, which was just the second time this season UW was ahead after 20 minutes.

The Huskies stretched their lead to 37-30 and was up 51-47 with 5:10 left in the second half, when the Gaels used an 11-2 run to go up 58-53 at the 1:43 mark.

“Should have won the game, but we didn’t,” SMU coach Randy Bennett said. “Down the stretch we didn’t make enough smart plays.”

Brooks and Fuller, who had 12 points, combined for five points the rest of the way in regulation to forced OT.

Johnson added 10 points and Kepnang, who was voted to the all-tournament team, chipped in 10 points and five rebounds.

“Every game is about growing and learning about ourselves,” Hopkins said. “We showed that we could make mistakes and still get better. As a team, we’re going to grow more tougher together. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s real. Our team showed a lot of toughness this weekend.”