By JOHN SLEEPER
SEATTLE – When Washington suffered its second-half collapse Saturday in an 86-74 loss at Gonzaga, it was the first time the Huskies hadn’t played at a more than acceptable level since the season-opener against UTEP.
Were it not for an 11-0 run (one that turned to 17-2) by Gonzaga to open the second half, Seattle might well be spinning with talk about an overachieving UW team (3-2) that makes up for a lack of skill with guts and hustle in order to pull an upset.
Even so, Gonzaga coach Mark Few counts himself as a Washington fan.
“People are vastly underrating them,” he said. “They play so unselfishly and together. More than a few times, we played 20 seconds of good, hard defense on them and watched them cut behind us and get a layup. I like them.”
Tonight, the Huskies have a similar foe that likes to hogtie its opponents with a harassing man defense and a deliberate, efficient offense. Saint Louis (4-1), an almost annual visitor to the NCAA Tournament, will serve as a measuring stick for a UW team that, despite its loss to Gonzaga, is building some confidence.
After all, Gonzaga was ahead of all-powerful Arizona in Tucson before standout Casey Calvary fouled out with five minutes left.
“I was pleased by the way our team handled a lot of things,” UW coach Bob Bender said. “I just wish we had played the whole 40 minutes like we did the first 20.”
Forward Will Perkins has been a pleasant surprise for the Huskies, averaging 14.8 points and 9.6 rebounds a game, both team-highs. He has had four double-doubles in the Huskies’ first five games.
Forward Thalo Green has come off the bench to give the Huskies some offensive spark. He is second in scoring at 13 points a game and has shown a much-improved mid-range jump shot.
The Huskies, playing their fourth game in eight days, will take the next 10 days off for final exams before traveling to Miami for a Dec. 16 game at Florida International. Following that, Washington plays in the three-day Puerto Rico Holiday Classic in San Juan Dec. 20-22.
The 10-day layoff makes tonight’s game important in terms of psyche, and the Billikens are no pushovers.
Under coach and former Husky Lorenzo Romar, Saint Louis has won its last three games, including an 88-66 whitewash of Cal Nov. 29. The Billikens then did in Idaho 80-41 Saturday night.
Saint Louis’ high scorer, swingman Maurice Jeffers, averages 12 points a game, but the Billikens play a lot of people and don’t go nuts with the fast break.
It’s an efficient, effective style of play, although Romar prefers a more electric pace.
Still, against Idaho and Cal, the Billikens showed they can pile up points.
“We were pleased with the mature manner in which our players handled the Idaho game,” Romar said. “Even though we got up by a large margin, we didn’t get lax on either end of the floor. We continued to play together. No one got selfish. Whether you’re up 30 or down 20, those qualities help win games.”
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