The low-post game has fallen out of basketball fashion. Ever since analytics established that nationally improving 3-point shooting made the reward worth the risk, big-man offense became brown shoes in a tuxedoed world.
Until Saturday at Hec Ed. Noah Dickerson went all throwback on looming Arizona, swooping, double-pumping, left-hooking and right-tipping his way to 25 points as the lead act in a thrilling upset of the ninth-ranked Wildcats.
The Malones, Karl and Moses, salute you, elbows up.
What made Saturday more remarkable was Arizona deployed two good seven-footers, senior Dusan Ristic of Serbia and freshman Deandre Ayton of the Bahamas, to wall off the inside. Ayton particularly was formidable, an agile athlete with a quick leap who is expected to be a top-three pick in the NBA draft in June. He’s the Pac-12 Conference’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder.
Washington countered with the 6-11 Sam Timmins, an all-defense, no-offense workhorse, and Dickerson, who at 6-8 in this particular low-block world was a stumpster. As he explained:
“I’m kinda challenged, height-wise,” he said. “So I use my pump fakes, my footwork. … I put my body into them so they can’t jump. I have really long arms and it’s hard for them to go get it. It was a big thing I was working on.
“They had me a little bit, pounds-wise, but this is what I trained for all summer. I kept going at it.”
As spectacular as was Dominic Green’s buzzer-beating, game-winning shot, what drove the Huskies’ most significant home win in years was Dickerson’s game-long ability to find his way through the forest, and also avoid fouling out (one personal) defending giants.
Dickerson’s 15-point scoring average is 13th in the conference. His 8.1 average on the boards is fourth. Safe to say that without his inside game, the Huskies’ season would have been on the outside of the race — its usual and accustomed place in the final years of the Lorenzo Romar era.
Although Mike Hopkins has rightly been hailed for the one-season renaissance, the Huskies coach deferred credit regarding Dickerson’s unusual ability to get his shot off inside.
“He has a God-given ability to score in the post,” he said, apparently reading from the Book of First Alcindorians. “You can’t really explain it. He’s got great footwork — kind of uncanny, I don’t want to say he’s awkward — but he’s got good moves and a good touch.
“Coaches give great players organization and motivation. Great players make plays. Noah made plays.”
Dickerson may not be great quite yet, but the junior has started all three years and has improved steadily. A native of Atlanta who finished his prep career at Montverde Academy near Orlando, his world was rocked 11 months ago when Romar, the man who brought Dickerson out of Southeastern Conference country to far-off Seattle, was fired.
He seriously considered transferring. Dickerson took a visit to Louisiana State and was about to visit the University of Florida when he was double-teamed by Romar and Hopkins. The new coach gave the old coach credit for lobbying players to stick around.
In April, Dickerson announced his decision on Twitter. Assist: Romar.
“I came here 2 years ago with a class that was committed to get UW back to the top and I’m going to stay dedicated to that commitment,” he wrote. “I am excited to be back with my teammates and for this new chapter with Coach Hopkins and his staff.”
Friday before the game, Dickerson caught up with Romar, returning to Montlake for the first time since he was fired.
“It’s all love,” Dickerson said. “He got us all over here in Seattle. He was glad we were doing things, understanding and liking the zone (defense). He was all happy for us.”
So too were Huskies fans. Saturday was such a dramatic, well-played encounter that the audio reached levels unknown to players mired in three years of doldrums.
“Arizona couldn’t hear anything,” said Green. Added Dickerson: “It was hard for us to call out screens for each other. That’s amazing. It was wild.”
Hopkins, who tends toward the hyperbolic, was ecstatic about the atmosphere and the advantage it offers.
“Our crowd was one of the main factors in us winning,” said Hopkins. “I’ve been in a lot of arenas, and a lot of tough games. … when the crowd stood, it was as loud as I’ve heard in any arena.
“You could see our guys get that extra jolt of energy. That’s why I’m happy to be here. I think we can have the best home court in the country.”
Hopkins is entitled to go off the deep end, given where the 17-6 Huskies find themselves — third in the Pac-12. They play at Oregon on Thursday and at Oregon State on Saturday.
Big fun: Hopkins gets to deploy the genuine-article, low-post, back-to-the-basket big man on offense to go with his old-school, 2-3 zone defense.
Short shorts and black canvas, Chuck Taylor high-tops for everyone.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.