SEATTLE — While Lorenzo Romar may still have concerns about Washington’s defense, he’ll happily take a stat line featuring 55 percent shooting and 19 assists.
Especially against the different kind of zone defenses Idaho State used to try and confuse the Huskies on Saturday.
“What we have been guilty of a little bit early walking around, jogging around early trying to figure it all out and today I thought we attacked,” Romar said. “We weren’t really thinking we were going out playing basketball and getting into the places where we were supposed to be.”
C.J. Wilcox scored 14 of his 19 points in the first half, Perris Blackwell scored a season high 20 points, and Washington finally pulled away from Idaho State in the final five minutes for a 85-66 win.
The Huskies had dropped three of five, including last Sunday’s setback at No. 25 San Diego State. But Washington started its final stretch of games before beginning Pac-12 play with a surprising challenge out of the Bengals from the Big Sky.
Washington (5-4) saw a 13-point lead trimmed to five with 7:04 remaining, but Andrew Andrews and Wilcox combined for nine straight points as the Huskies finally pulled away. Washington shot a season-best 55 percent and the 19 assists matched a season high.
“The first half we did a good job attack it and hitting shots,” Wilcox said. “We were able to penetrate and kick out as well as kick it in to Perris and Shawn (Kemp Jr.). That definitely sparked us in the first half.”
Romar will have concerns to address before Tuesday’s game at Tulane and ahead of its Dec. 22 showdown at home against Connecticut. The Bengals scored with ease on the interior for the first 30 minutes of the game and then couldn’t make a basket most of the final 10 minutes as the Huskies defense tightened.
The Bengals scored their final eight points at the free throw line and did not make a field goal the final 9:51.
“I hope it’s starting to click,” Andrews said.
Idaho State missed its final eight shots after scoring 36 interior points in the first 30 minutes. Washington was concerned about the Bengals 3-point shooting that ranked 11th in the country at 43.7 percent entering the game. Idaho State went just 2 of 15 (15 percent) from deep, but the ease of baskets the Bengals got inside is an area still needing work for Washington.
“We’re still not jumping to the ball as much. But in terms of giving up layups we’ve cut that way down the last two games, especially the San Diego State game from where it was before,” Romar said. “Regardless of who we were playing we were giving up far too many layups before.”
Tomas Sanchez and Jeffrey Solarin led the Bengals (3-4) with 14 points each. Andre Hatchett added 12 points and Chris Hansen had 11 for the Bengals, who lost to a Pac-12 team for the second time in a week. Idaho State lost at Utah 74-66 last Tuesday.
Washington pushed its lead to 13 early in the second half but failed to shake the Bengals. Idaho State lingered with the deficit around eight or 10 points and Washington failed to get defensive stops that could have finally given them a comfortable lead. Idaho State got a dunk from Hatchett off an inbound pass, a pair of free throws from Hansen and two free throws from Hatchett, to trim the Huskies lead to 70-64 with 7:59 left.
Hansen split free throws and the lead was down to five, but Andrews’ rebound putback pushed the lead to seven and the Bengals committed turnovers on their next two possessions. Wilcox then knocked down just his second shot attempt of the second half — a 15-footer — and the Huskies lead was back to 74-65 with 5 minutes left. Andrews added another jumper to get the lead back into double figures and hit a 3-pointer with 2:50 left for a 79-65 lead.
“Shooting 55 percent, whatever we did, let’s roll with it.” Romar said.