SEATTLE — At every time out in every Washington huddle, what Cal Poly was able to accomplish earlier in the season when they rallied from 18 points down to beat UCLA became a repetitive reminder for the Huskies.
Don’t let up. Don’t give them a chance to rally.
“We knew with our mindset that we had to be solid,” Washington’s Abdul Gaddy said.
C.J. Wilcox scored 21 points, and Washington used one of its best defensive efforts of the season to shake pesky Cal Poly 75-62 on Thursday night for the Huskies’ first three-game win streak of the season.
Scott Suggs added 12 points, and Aziz N’Diaye had 11 points and nine rebounds for the Huskies, who play one more home game on Saturday against Northern Illinois before beginning a challenging four-game road swing beginning Dec. 29 at Connecticut.
But before the Huskies (7-4) get to Connecticut and eventually
Pac-12 play, they needed to shore up their own problems with inconsistency for stretches of the game. And for a night, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar saw the kind of constant defensive effort and offensive efficiency he’s been seeking.
“I thought our guys put together probably our best defensive effort of the season in terms of our concentration and focus and executing our defensive game plan. I thought our guys did a really good job,” Romar said.
Chris Eversley led Cal Poly (4-6) with 23 points, but the Mustangs were unable to pull off the upset on a second Pac-12 school this season after stunning UCLA last month.
Cal Poly had actually won its previous two games against Pac-12 competition after beating USC during the 2011 season and upsetting the Bruins. But Washington’s sticky defense and rebounding edge wouldn’t allow a third straight Pac-12 conquest for the Mustangs.
Washington pulled away thanks to its defense holding the Mustangs scoreless for nearly seven minutes of the second half. Eversley’s dunk with 16:41 left pulled the Mustangs within 38-29, but Cal Poly didn’t score again until Eversley’s free throw with 9:52 remaining. By the time Cal Poly scored again, the Huskies had built a 20-point lead on the strength of a three-point play from Suggs that started the scoring spurt and fastbreak dunks from Wilcox and Gaddy.
“I think this makes us head in the right direction,” Romar said. “Are we there yet? No. But what we did, the way we went about our business is more like what we would want from our team.”
Even before the second-half run, the Huskies set the tone with their ability to fluster one of the most efficient teams in the country in the first half. From the start, it was clear that Washington was ready defensively. Cal Poly struggled to get its offensive sets started and often was left taking rushed attempts in the final seconds of the shot clock. The Huskies jumped out to a 13-4 lead, then gave up 12 of the next 15 points, letting Cal Poly pull even at 16-all.
That was the last time Cal Poly would tie. Wilcox hit a 3 later in the half to push the Huskies lead back to seven, and Andrew Andrews scored the final four points of the half, including a tough driving layup just before the horn to give Washington a 31-23 lead at the break.
Cal Poly tied a season-high with 12 turnovers, after entering the night having committed the fewest total turnovers in all college hoops. Nine of those turnovers came in the first half. It was a big reason why Cal Poly coach Joe Callero’s homecoming didn’t go as planned. Before becoming the Mustangs coach in 2009, Callero spent seven seasons at Seattle University, laying the groundwork for the Redhawks transition from Division II to Division I that becomes complete this season with Seattle now eligible for the NCAA tournament.
While the turnovers were a problem, Callero felt Washington’s 11 offensive boards were crushing for his team. The Huskies had 17 second-chance points.
“The baskets that really drained us came from their offensive boards,” Callero said. “N’Diaye, the 7-foot kid, just went over the top of us and snatched four offensive boards. They were critical ones.”