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As Seattle University coach Cameron Dollar said after the game, the Washington Huskies' talent simply overwhlemed the Redhawks, particularly in the post.
It didn't appear to matter whether the Redhawks double-teamed...
...or triple-teamed the Huskies...
...they just couldn't hang with the Huskies inside.
But to Seattle U's credit, in addition to playing hard, their fans were in top form. The record crowd of 11,386 people included a mix of Huskies and Redhawks fans - as well as local basketball fans - but Seattle U fans were consistently engaged after the opening whistle blew.
That is certainly not a knock on Huskies' fans: without a doubt, the Dawg Pack is one of the best fan sections in the Pac-10. But last night, the growing Division I program on Capitol Hill represented.
With 10:44 left in the second half at KeyArena tonight, 6-foot-8 Seattle University Redhawks forward Alex Jones found himself among three Washington Huskies players on the right block with seemingly nowhere to go.
Despite the odds, Jones took a few pivots to try to create some space before finally just going up right into seven foot UW center Aziz N'Diaye and managing to draw a foul.
That's pure heart and making something out of nothing and the type of effort the Redhawks have put in all season that makes them worth watching.
Then Jones stepped to the line and hit one of two free throws.
Then the Huskies proceeded to score six points on the next three possessions.
In a sense, that's pretty much how the whole game went, but especially the second half: the Redhawks would find a way to create an opportunity for themselves, the Huskies athleticism overwhelmed them, and the Huskies blitzed them with another mini-run.
The Redhawks competed, played hard, and at moments perhaps you could even say they played over their heads. But ultimately, the Huskies had talent on their side and that made all the difference.
"The one thing with the talent gap that you account for at times is just that fatigue and the talent kind of just wearing on you," said Dollar. "That happens. So speed of the game, how fast they come at you, how consistent they are in being able to make the play - you can't account for that at times."
Nevertheless, this was still an impressive game for Seattle U not only because they cut last year's scoring margin in half, but also because they accomplished at least one thing that one might have figured was a struggle coming in: they won the turnover battle by a narrow margin.
"From a fans perspective it was an exciting game," said UW coach Lorenzo Romar after the game. "You gotta give a lot of credit to Seattle U - they were scrappy and forced us into 17 turnovers."
But it wasn't only what the Redhawks did to their cross-town visitors - in the first half, they only committed five turnovers themselves, which was a significant factor in keeping the game close, especially considering their 32.3 percent first half shooting.
"We moved the ball well and took advantage of some of them really getting up in us," said Dollar, immediately shifting the focus to the 11 second half turnovers. "Then that's when I say that training comes in to where you just move and you scrap and you're tougher with the ball passing it and you just stick to what's working. A lot times kids don't stop doing what's working all of a sudden because they decide they don't want to want to do it anymore."
We as fans might look at this game and commend Seattle U for staying closer than a number of other UW opponents, but it was also an illustration of how far they have to go. An obvious focal point of this game might be the Redhawks' inability to contain the Huskies' post players - UW forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning had a double-double with a team-high 24 points and 13 rebounds while center Aziz N'Diaye chippd in with 15 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks, and an assist for good measure.
Yet perhaps more noteworthy for Dollar was the Redhawks poor ball movement, particularly in the first half - they only finished with 10 assists for the game - and three assists on 10 made shots in the first half, which was insufficient for Dollar's tastes to say the least.
"We shouldn't have had 10 assists in that game," said Dollar, concisely yet emphatically. "We should've had 20."
Obviously fans might use this game as a measuring stick for both ways: in winning this game almost entirely by leveraging a talent gap, it wasn't necessarily the type of performance that the Huskies would need to get through the remainder of Pac-10 play - including the tournament - and into the Big Dance. In competing better than last season, even for a half, it's not difficult to construe this game as an example of the further evolution of the Redhawks.
"I mean even from the gap from last year, that's a huge jump, just to compete tonight" said Redhawks guard Cervante Burrell who finished with a game-high 26 points, four assists, and two steals. "So I feel that next year will be another jump. And who knows, we may win next year. I know that's what I'm trying to do in my last year is win."
However in experiencing the talent gap in a loss at home in front of a record crowd of 11,386, Dollar sees the game as an example of how far the Redhawks have to go.
"Like I told the team, you need to be on auto-pilot when you play these games," said Dollar. "And you can't come into them now and try to be more disciplined or pass the ball more, cut harder, move - you need to be a machine to where you take care of that stuff. We're not quite there yet, obviously, and that's my responsibility to get us there...That's on me to try to get them better and improve so that we can sustain longer on offense and defense."
Seattle U Redhawks' players and coaches probably won't admit this, but no matter what happens in the second half of this game an eight point halftime deficit is a moral victory for the Redhawks.
Put simply, next to the Redhawks effort the indisputably more talented Washington Huskies look sluggish and unfocused.
To be more specific, Seattle U is doing something that they absolutely had to in order to stay in this game: winning the turnover battle. With only five first half turnovers to the Huskies' nine, their ability to protect the ball for most of the half - they had three dead ball turnovers in a row - has been the most significant reason they're still in this game.
However, while Cervante Burrell and Sterling Carter share a team-high 10 points for the Redhawks, it has been Burrell's aggression driving to the basket that has been most impressive - as is the case against many opponents, his speed enables him to blow by opponents and get to the rim with surprising ease and his pull-up jumper literally caused Isaiah Thomas to fall over at one point.
For the Huskies, Matthew Bryan-Amaning jumps off the halftime scoring sheet with 12 points and eight rebounds and there isn't much stopping him from having a career game against the Redhawks who simply can't contend with his size and athleticism around the basket. His 4-for-6 shooting and strong post presence has helped the Huskies establish a 46.7 percent to 32.3 percent shooting advantage that has given them the lead.
We could go into strategic implications, but for tonight the biggest impact of that is if UW gets out to a big lead early, Overton will come in and clamp down further.
Of far greater importance, that number 55 is Matthew Bryan-Amaning in case you're confused.
Seattle University athletics is expecting the largest crowd to attend a home game since reclassification, but to swing that crowd of locals in their favor they will probably have to get off to a better start than they did last year at Hec Ed.
Time to Play the Game: Seattle U Hosts Washington Tuesday - Seattle University Redhawks Athletics
GETTING OUT OF THE BLOCKS: For Seattle University to have a chance against Washington, it will need a much better start than it has produced over the past two seasons. In the March 3, 2009 meeting, the game was tied at 4-4 when Washington went on a 21-4 run over a nine-minute span in the first half to pull ahead. The Huskies solidified their advantage with a 14-6 scoring run in the final five minutes of the first half to open a 42-19 lead at halftime. Last season, Washington scored the first 18 points of the game and opened a 30-3 lead halfway through the first half. The Huskies hit eight of their first ten shots from the field while the Redhawks missed 11 of their first 12 field goal attempts.
Regardless of the outcome, one could imagine that this could be the best atmosphere in KeyArena...since the deafening crowd of the Seattle Storm this past summer.
A few weeks ago, someone joked that the best chance for the Seattle University Redhawks to beat the Washington Huskies tonight would be for them to somehow convince UW that KeyArena is in fact in some city other than Seattle.
Given that UW has lost four of their last five road games, perhaps that's the best strategy to make this year's game more competitive than last year's 123-76 debacle at Hec Ed.
Absent the Huskies' minds playing tricks on them, a win for the Redhawks would appear to be difficult at best. Nevertheless, at least three things stand out in trying to keep the game even reasonably respectable.
No matter who else has been stepping up to put up big numbers for the Huskies, there is little doubt that Isaiah Thomas has been the heart and soul of this team for most of the season - quite simply, if he goes off as a scorer, it's even easier for him to put pressure on the defense as a distributor and then bad things occur for the opposition.
The most effective way to limit Thomas this season has been to stick a bigger defender on him and use his size against him. But with forward Mark McLaughlin no longer with the team, it's more likely that the Redhawks will try to get the job done with a smaller player like senior guard Garrett Lever.
"I always know for sure that (there's) one guy I don't have to worry about," said Redhawks coach Cameron Dollar of Garrett Lever after he helped contain Utah Valley's Isaiah Williams, who was coming off a Great West Player of the Week award. "As long as Garrett Lever is suiting up, I don't have to do no special adjustments other than, ‘Hey - go get him!'"
Lever is energetic, quick, and strong enough to guard bigger players, but hasn't necessarily had to contend with a point guard of Thomas' caliber just yet. It's unlikely that he would be able to stop Thomas, but his ability to contain him will be important to keeping this game from getting too far out of hand.
To put it nicely, the Redhawks are an inconsistent shooting team. That leads a lot of teams to throw a zone at them and force them to break it by either making perimeter shots or finding ways to drive the gaps. However, with a considerable size advantage and an elite perimeter defender like Venoy Overton, the Huskies could be just as effective, if not more, by sticking with a man-to-man defense and forcing Redhawks' ball handlers to prove they can make decisions under pressure.
Regardless of which defense the Huskies play, the challenge for the Redhawks will be to keep their turnovers below their average of 17.8 per game at the very least and if they dare to think they can keep the game close, they'll have to be even better than that.
The Redhawks pride themselves on being an aggressive, defensive, scrappy team that pushes the pace and imposes a little bit of chaos on the game. And in many instances, "the uglier the better" is a mantra that fits them well.
However, the Huskies pose another huge challenge: while Seattle U is currently the third fastest team in the nation at 77.2 possessions per 40 minutes, Washington is not far behind ranked 11th at 75 possessions per game. This puts the Redhawks in a bit of a bind.
If they get the Huskies in the type of up and down game that they usually aim for, the Huskies are so much more efficient and less turnover prone that the Redhawks could get run out of their own arena. If they attempt to slow it down, they have to contend with scoring in the halfcourt against a bigger UW team while being an inefficient shooting team themselves.
Ultimately, the Redhawks are better when they're running and it's hard to imagine them competing with a team like Washington at their normal pace. Then again, it's hard to imagine them beating much of anyone at a slower pace. As such, the pace problem might be their biggest and most fundamental challenge to overcome among the litany of other challenges one might be able to imagine.
The Seattle University Redhawks' KeyArena magic appeared to be wavering entering a game almost two weeks ago against the Utah Valley Wolverines.
After splitting their previous four home contests with a 16-point loss to Portland on the preceding Saturday and having already lost by the same margin to UVU on the road back in January, their chances of reclaiming their home court magic seemed slim.
And certainly, one might have thought, they wouldn't be controlling the rebounds in this matchup, home or away.
UVU had risen to first place in the Great West Conference having won eight of their previous nine games, while also being among the nation's top defensive rebounding teams in particular. Meanwhile, Seattle U - which is by no means a poor offensive rebounding team, standing among the nation's top 50 by percentage - entered the game having lost four of their previous five and getting beaten on the boards in all but their win at Cal State Northridge.
Then again, that all assumes that the Redhawks are predictable.
Not only did they outrebound UVU by a 46-33 margin, but they also managed to dominate the offensive glass 17 to 5 in the second half en route to a characteristically entertaining 63-57 win.
"We do a pretty good job of scrapping and fighting and getting rebounds anyway," said Seattle U coach Cameron Dollar after the game when asked about the rebounding advantage. "They played zone so I think that helped us rebound a little bit as well. But overall, it's just being aggressive and going and getting it."
Win or lose, there is rarely any doubt that the Redhawks will show up every single game ready to fight. And at some point during the season, you just had to accept it, enjoy the ride and resist the impulse to explain their outcomes game to game.
This team has been unpredictable for most of this season.
"I can't explain that," said center Alex Jones, chuckling when asked what seemed to be going on between home and the road after the Redhawks won their first home game of 2011 against Eastern Washington. "We're not a young team but we play like a young team sometimes. We're growing up and we're going to get better."
Of course, as a team that is only in its second year of Division I play, some period of growing up is to be expected. What Dollar is looking for - and what the team has done consistently - is to see his team continue fighting.
"We talk about it every year - during this time there are teams that are starting to fold up and go home and be done and kind of check out," said Dollar after last week's UVU win. "We never want to be one of those teams."
In comparison to the Washington Huskies' well-documented struggles on the road - which share some similar features, whether it be rebounding or defense - the Redhawks' ups and downs this season are much better described in the way Jones put it: they're erratic, but evolving. And even in losses, as they continue to grow, the way they've won and loss has changed rather dramatically over the course of the season - their offense looks much more consistently fuid even when they don't score well and since that first win of 2011 they've been winning the turnover battle at that frenetic pace of theirs.
But the aspect of their game that most reflects their inconsistency is their rather erratic shooting percentages.
Although they're prone to shoot a lot of 3-point shots, that doesn't really explain the shooting numbers well - far more often in their worst shooting performances it's missed shots around the basket or missed wide open shots. That said, no player embodies their youthful inconsistency better than freshman gunner Sterling Carter.
Carter's 191 3-point attempts this season rank 33rd in the nation, which is not a problem for Dollar as long as he continues to make around 35 percent. But people who talk about UW freshman Terrence Ross' quick trigger might have to adjust their thinking after watching Carter. Yet the odd thing about Carter is that he's gone through more than one game in which he's had a huge first half - making four or five threes - and then disappeared in the second half. Dollar has explained that as him simply needing to adjust to making shots off passes or out of sets. And in a way his ability to maintain an aggressive mindset despite not quite having figured things out is the perfect embodiment of the team - the team is exciting, talented, and has a promising future but is worth watching because they have never given up even when the ball isn't quite bouncing their way.