The Washington Huskies 80-52 win against the San Francisco Dons was more like the type of game UW fans were used to seeing early in the season - a more consistently dominant performance against a team that was quite simply overmatched.
And although the change in the starting lineup with Matthew Bryan-Amaning playing next to Aziz N'Diaye was the most notable difference in this game, an old theme stood out as well - the team's depth made a difference early in the game when the Huskies couldn't seem to hit early looks. Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar was able to tinker with lineups until he found a combination that worked.
"Having that depth most definitely helps," said Holiday, who started out the game 0-for-6 before hitting his last three shots to finish with eight points. "I mean even if nobody hits like today in the first half - and in the second half we didn't shoot that much better - but we were still able to win. I've always talked about how real good teams should be able to win even though they weren't scoring. So this is a good game for us to look at to get the idea of not just being able to score, but being able to get the stop and get the rebound."
So although they struggled to hit shots in the first eight minutes of the game which kept the game close at 12-11, Romar was eventually able to find a player who could contribute to the scoring effort. With Holiday not hitting, Romar looked first to C.J. Wilcox who shot 1-for-4 before finding the right player in Scott Suggs who shot 3-for-3 and scored eight of his team-high 15 points in the first half. After Suggs came in just under 12 minutes, the Huskies went on a 16 to 4 run that established a cushion that they were able to just build upon the rest of the way. The Huskies bench finished by outscoring the Dons bench 31 to 9 on the night.
But as Holiday alluded to, the Huskies relied heavily on defense and rebounding during that dry spell and that's obviously the thing that most stood out after harping on rebounding all week in practice. Bryan-Amaning looked rejuvenated in his rebounding effort finishing with seven offensive boards and nine overall while N'Diaye finished with five to go along with four monster blocks and nine points. Most of all, Romar suggested that the presence of two post players in the lineup and particularly N'Diaye's aggression on the boards helped and rubbed off on the guards.
"Aziz, his presence alone, he doesn't get 10 rebounds a game - he didn't get 10, he only had five tonight - but he is long," said Romar. "Again, like I said earlier in the week: we just had to play guys that rebounded better. Aziz is our best rebounder so he got more minutes tonight and his presence allowed everyone else to go get boards. You have a guy in there trying to rebound like that, I think it rubs off on some other guys: Venoy Overton got six rebounds. Scott Suggs got five rebounds. So it helped tonight."
And the energy level was higher throughout and the offensive execution better than their past two games. Moreover, they consistently help the Dons under 40 percent shooting, only allowing one of Perris Blackwell (17 points) and Michael Williams (19 points) to burn them in each half. But there is still work to be done.
"I thought we did a better job on the boards, especially we held them to one rebound in the first half - the second half wasn't nearly as good," said Romar. "But I thought we made progress that way - we outrebounded that team who had been doing a good job in their own right on the boards. And you might say, 'Well this wasn't some of the more high-profile schools.' But I'll just remind you that we got outrebounded by Eastern (Washington) and St. Martin's. So, I felt it was progress."
Although the Huskies dominated the boards 22-13 in the first half, they saw a bit of a drop off in the second half, being beat 9 to 6 on the offensive boards in the second half and playing even at 23 total. It's those type of lapses that they will probably continue to look at correcting, but this performance was much better overall.
"About a two or three minute in the second half we were lax," said Romar. "Aside from that, I thought we did a good job."
Nevertheless, Holiday thinks the team got closer to playing for a full 40, which means that maybe they're getting closer to where they need to be to being as competitive in the Pac-10 as people predicted at the beginning of the season.
"I think we got closer," said Holiday. "We didn't get the full 40, but I think we got closer. Once again, it was just us wanting to do it. We know we have to win that way. I mean, we knew before, but it could have been maybe just the week of practice over and over again. But I think as a team we want to win and we want to win the right way, so I think that's what it was."