SEATTLE — On the same night that the University of Washington men’s basketball team officially unveiled its high-post offense, the Huskies came out with something akin to a high-post defense.
That is, nearly 14 feet of high posts.
UW took the floor for its season opener with 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman Jernard Jarreau joining 7-footer Aziz N’Diaye in the starting lineup, and the effects were immediately apparent. Opponent Loyola (Md.) missed 11 of its first 12 shots, and N’Diaye either blocked or altered six of those misses.
One problem: the Huskies’ dual big men weren’t nearly enough to account for the loss of big-time scorers Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten on the other end.
Not until early in the second half, when UW started raining 3-pointers, did the Huskies find their offense on Sunday night. And, thanks in part to a towering defense, it was more than enough to dispatch of the scrappy Greyhounds 85-63.
“Once they started sharing the ball,” said Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos, “we were doomed.”
UW overcame 11 first-half turnovers and a remarkable 19 offensive rebounds by the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference favorite, a team Patsos described as “a true mid-mid-major — not like a Gonzaga mid-major” because of the Greyhounds lack of size.
UW shot 62.5 percent from the field in the second half, making 7 of 11 3-pointers in the process, turned the ball over once in the final 20 minutes and outscored Loyola 52-32 after halftime.
“We were looking forward to the opener and started a little slow, being negligent with the basketball,” said N’Diaye, who had a career-high 16 rebounds in the win. “But we picked it up in the second half.”
UW’s defense looked good from the outset but also showed plenty of room for improvement. What was even more encouraging for Husky fans was the way the offense came into shape when it mattered. After a first half that saw UW turn the ball over 11 times while clinging to a 33-31 lead, the Huskies turned loose their backcourt duo of C.J. Wilcox and Abdul Gaddy to put Loyola away.
UW made eight of its first 10 shots of the second half, and eventually Wilcox (22 points) and Gaddy (17) proved that life does go on after Ross and Wroten.
But it took awhile to get there.
It said a lot that two of the more audible moments of the first half — not including constant player dress-downs by Patsos, who may well have made Mike Leach cringe — were an arena-wide groan after an Andrew Andrews transition pass flew three feet in front of teammate Scott Suggs and a loud cheer when N’Diaye hit a free throw that followed 1-of-4 shooting from the Huskies from the free-throw line.
UW eventually found its stroke from the charity stripe, at one point making 10 in a row on the way to 22-for-30 free-throw shooting for the game. But the key stretch came when Gaddy, Wilcox and Desmond Simmons hit 3-pointers early in the second half to open up UW’s first double-digit lead of the night, at 50-40.
The Huskies made 9 of 17 shots from 3-point range, led by Wilcox’s 4-for-5 performance. N’Diaye recorded a double-double, with 10 points and 16 rebounds, while Suggs overcame first-half foul trouble to score 15 points in his first official game since the 2010-11 season.
Perhaps the most important number for UW, however, was 12. That’s how many turnovers the Huskies had at the end of the game — a remarkable number when considering only one of them came after halftime.
“We took care of the ball,” said Gaddy, who added two assists and had two turnovers. “They took the press off when we started beating it down the middle.”
If there was an area of concern for UW, it was on the glass. Outside of N’Diaye, the Huskies had just 22 rebounds, while Loyola had 34 — including 19 on the offensive glass.
“Tonight was a good wakeup call for our guys,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said after the win. “… We were able to see: wow, this is what happens if you don’t box out. Loyola-Maryland went to work on us.”
Loyola struggled from both the free-throw line (13 of 24) and 3-point arc (4 of 16) but stuck around for more than 30 minutes before things started to get out of hand. When N’Diaye and Jarreau were on the floor together, the Greyhounds couldn’t get much going inside.
“We played about as good as we could,” said Patsos, a former Maryland assistant who is in his ninth season at Loyola. “… This was a great experience, one of the great atmospheres in college basketball. I can’t have half as good of practices as what we were able to face (Sunday night).”
Romar was also encouraged by the performance, even though it took his team’s new offense awhile to get going.
“It was a quiet 85 points,” he said. “That was a low-possession game. We shot 54 percent, and I thought we got great shots. … The offense tonight provided great balance.”