Chances are that many of the 8.914 people attended the University of Washington's 118-64 blowout of McNeese State at Hec Edmundson Pavilion left wondering what had gotten into senior center Matthew Bryan-Amaning.
Put simply, if he continues to play with the type of determination, grit and intensity he showed this afternoon, the Huskies might have the memorable season that everyone hopes to have in their final year of school.
"We're just doing everything we can as a team," said Bryan-Amaning, who finished with a career-high 28 points to go with 13 rebounds. "It's my last year and I want it to be special. And the only way it's going to be that is to have high intensity the whole time I'm on the court. And it's not about the opponent."
Set aside the fact that McNeese State was a clearly overmatched opponent - after Cowboys guard Patrick Richard hit a 3-point shot to open the game, the Huskies went on a 13 minute 53-6 run to pretty much end whatever uncertainty there might have been about the outcome of the game. Even when the Cowboys seemed to make an effort to stop the run, the Huskies would reel off another 8-0 or 9-0 run. It got so bad that the Dawg Pack cheered when the Cowboys finally hit double digits with 4:45 left in the first half.
UW had the home crowd on their side and McNeese State just had no answers to counter or stop anybody the Huskies put on the floor.
"They had a lot more guys than we did, they had a lot of guys play well on the inside, and they shot very well," said McNeese State coach Dave Simmons. "Obviously we wanted to come in and play better, but we didn't."
So it would certainly be easy to dismiss Bryan-Amaning's performance as nothing more than bullying an overwhelmed opponent that simply couldn't find a way to fight back. However, what made his performance impressive was that he managed to sustain the intensity long after the outcome of the game was decided. It wasn't what he did this afternoon, but how he got it done: he looked like a player that had something to prove.
"Nah, not individually but just season time - it's time to go," said Bryan-Amaning. "But we just want to win games and take care of the future right now. That's how its gotta be every game. The only way I'm going to be consistent is to have that type of intensity on the court."
Although he denies the presence of any added individual incentive to come out as aggressive and assertive as he did, he looked more driven to impose his will on the game than UW fans have seen in his four years with the team. So perhaps it was fitting that Bryan-Amaning notched the Huskies' 100th point and his career-high 28th point in spectacular fashion.
Statistical MVP: Matthew Bryan-Amaning
After helping to disrupt a McNeese State play on the defensive end, Bryan-Amaning found himself wide-open in transition for a fast break, double-pump, reverse dunk with more than enough power to give the Cowboys one more reminder that he was not to be messed with on this day.
And for all of his aggression, he was also relatively efficient shooting 11-for-18 from the field and drawing contact to get himself to the free throw line 12 times. Of course, everyone would like to see a higher percentage of layups in traffic or more than half of his free throws go down as well, but for now Huskies fans should see his mentality alone as a sign of good things to come for the season.
"That was just Matt being Matt," said guard Venoy Overton, who finished with a team-high six assists and no turnovers off the bench. "I expect so much more from him so this game I'm not even praising him or nothing. I'm just telling him to keep working - this is one game. Don't feel yourself off this one game. If we play against some team with some nice big man, I always tell him, this won't mean nothing. So hopefully he's going to be focused for the next game and the games to come."
And yet coach Lorenzo Romar has said multiple times this preseason that one of the biggest things that makes this roster is the presence of Aziz N'Diaye.
Key Player: Aziz N'Diaye
"His presence down there - on both ends - his rebounding is ridiculous," said Bryan-Amaning of N'Diaye. "You forget sometimes you don't realize how long his arms are because he's seven feet tall. But everybody talks about my wingspan but he makes me look like a baby out there sometimes. We've got plays in practice where he has legit just stood up and had both of his arms up in the air and I can't get the ball just because of how long he was."
N'Diaye's game didn't exactly start off in anymore encouraging fashion than his last outing: he committed two quick fouls within seconds of entering the game.
But after those initial lapses he managed to settle himself down by focusing on what could be his biggest immediate strength.
"I felt okay," said N'Diaye, who finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds in 15 minutes. "I came off the bench and was ready to play and help my teammates. Getting going on the offensive glass, getting rebounds. I thought we did a pretty good job as a team crashing the offensive glass. I'm feeling good."
To say that the Huskies did a "pretty good job" crashing the offensive boards is an understatement, particularly for N'Diaye's individual performance. N'Diaye managed to snag 57.14 percent of the offensive rebounds available to him, finishing with 9 offensive rebounds. He used every bit of that wingspan and athleticism to his advantage and has the potential to be an absolute terror to opponents in the open floor once he gets more comfortable against Division I competition. Indeed, he was ridiculous and stands to get much more ridiculous.
And it's clear where his game needs work.
There were moments when he would put himself in the right position to make a play but looked a little hesitant on both ends of the floor just trying to figure out what to do next. But most of all, he really struggled from the free throw line - he got to the line at an outstanding rate with 15 free throws, showing that he knows how to use his size to draw contact and force the opponents to foul him. However, he only hit three of those 15 attempts. Overton not only expects that to improve, but expressed a bit of surprise about that result.
"He knocks 'em down in practice - it seems like he's a great free throw shooter in practice," said Overton. "But we heard about him - coaches told us about how when he was down in JC he was a terrible free throw shooter. But, you know, you wouldn't sense it when he goes up there and shoots with confidence."
But hopefully nobody allows N'Diaye's struggles from the line to overshadow the biggest takeaway from this game: apparently, when the Huskies decide to rebound, they can be absolutely dominant.
Key statistic: Offensive rebounding
Of course, there's a lot that went right in a game like this. But given their lackadaisical rebounding performance against Saint Martin's, their rebounding this afternoon stood out more than anything else.
The Huskies dominated the glass throughout the game, finishing with 69 total rebounds to the Cowboys' 32. But it was offensive rebounding that really helped UW dominate this game.
"We rebounded really well," said guard Isaiah Thomas who finished with 17 points including 4-for-4 3-point shooting. "That's how we're supposed to rebound every game, no matter who it's against, we've gotta hit the boards. That's what's going to make us the best team possible. There's more possessions when we rebound."
Washington outrebounded McNeese State 30 to 8 on the offensive glass, allowing an even four offensive rebounds per half. And although they were particularly dominant in the first half - they grabbed 63% of the available offensive rebounds in the first half - they really took advantage of those extra possessions Thomas referred to in the second half. The Huskies overwhelmed the Cowboys in second-chance points 11 to 1 in the second half and finished with a margin of 18 to 7.
However, with all the buzz about Washington's vastly improved rebounding performance, there might have been one bright spot for McNeese State.
McNeese State statistical MVP: Patrick Richard
The Cowboys actually had an extended run of their own that sort of started at the end of the first half when they scored 10 points in the final five minutes after having nine in the entire half prior to that and then began the second half on a 14 to 7 run.
While the three point shots were most notable - the were 4-for-5 early in the second half - it was their persistence in going to the basket that was ultimately a large part of why the Huskies started to collapse and give up open shots. But that aggressive play going to the basket also led to increased free throw opportunities.
"I am proud we shot 38 free throws in the game, but we have to shoot better than 55 percent," said coach Simmons. "That is how we are going to keep games close is shooting well from the line. For the most part we gave it all the effort we had and I am proud of the way we played."
The player that led the march to the free throw line was 6'4" forward Patrick Richard who went 7-for-10 from the line in the second half after not having any attempts in the first half. And in addition to finishing with a team-high 18 points on 5-for-11 shooting, he also finished with a team-high eight rebounds.
Unfortunately, his performance simply wasn't enough to mount any sort of serious challenge to the Huskies.
And as excruciating as the game must have been for McNeese State, it could be a sign of good things to come for Huskies fans.
"I would have to say that we made progress in a week's time," said coach Romar. "There were some things we wanted to concentrate on tonight - playing efficient basketball and doing a better job on the backboards - and we accomplished that I thought. In a game like that, sometimes it's difficult, if you get a lead like that, to maintain your focus and I thought we went for maybe a four, five minute period where we maybe lost focus a little bit. But all-in-all, I thought we did a pretty good job of it."