Beach's Bits - Loyola

Aziz N'Diaye (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

SEATTLE - After a unconvincing first 20 minutes, The Washington Huskies kicked into high gear, dispatching a dangerous Loyola-Maryland team 85-63 Sunday at Alaska Airlines Arena. The Huskies knew coming into the game that their 2012 debut wasn't going to be a cakewalk.

The visiting Greyhounds returned four starters from last season's NCAA Tournament team that lost to Ohio State, and featured pre-season MAAC Player of the Year Erik Etherly, as well as pre-season all conference picks Dylon Cormier and Robert Olson.

"Well that game, whether we won or lost, was about how we predicted," said a pleased Lorenzo Romar after the game. "A team that changes defenses, a team that wont beat itself, that's the team we played tonight, I thought our guys did a really good job. We gave up far too many offensive rebounds; they were too quick to the ball. In the first half, we gave up too much dribble penetration and turned the ball over unforced turnovers in most cases. We settled down in the second half and only turned the ball over one time, which I thought was very good for a half in any ball game. All in all I thought our guys did a pretty good job in handling everything that was thrown at them tonight. Aziz N'Diaye was sensational tonight, every time they shot the ball, it seemed like the ball went to him."

Looking at the box score, one would have never guessed that just two points separated the teams at half time. The Greyhounds were aggressive, using a back court trap to keep the Huskies off balance in the first half. Washington turned the ball over 11 times during The Opening period. But like UW teams of the past, this group of players has explosive scoring potential and once they found their rhythm and eliminated the mistakes they stepped on the gas.

As to be expected in a season opener the Huskies were hit or miss offensively from the start. Washington seemed relatively comfortable in their new High Post offense, consistently finding open shooters for uncontested jump shots. Were it not for the fact that they turned the ball over seven times in the first nine minutes, Washington played like they were in mid-season form - committing just one turnover in the second half to pull away from Loyola.

"I would say it was a quiet 85 points," shared Romar. "That was a low possession game in a lot of cases. We shot 54 percent, I thought we had great shots, we shot 73 percent from the foul line, we got to the foul line a lot. I just think that the offense tonight provided great balance to where you are able to make the defense play. Four guys are in double figures, if Andrew Andrews makes a free throw, you have five guys in double figures."

It's no secret that this season is going to be all about the guards and if the first game is any indication this group is special. In the first half, the Huskies shot the ball pretty well with C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs dialing in consistently until both players found themselves in foul trouble. Before it was all said and done Washington's veteran backcourt scored 63 of the team's 85 points, with Wilcox's 22 points leading the way. After settling in, the new offense clearly did its job as Washington's shooters picked apart the Greyhounds from outside. The Huskies connected on 52 percent of their three pointers as Wilcox and Suggs combined for 7-10 from downtown. After a relatively quiet first half, senior point guard Abdul Gaddy came alive in the second period and ending the game with an efficient 17 points.

"It was great, especially with Abdul and Andrew," Wilcox explained when asked about the the guards' hot shooting. "Once we hit a couple, they know to keep feeding us the ball. And when both of us are hitting it's tough to guard us so of course it's fun when everything is going in."

On the glass N'Daiye was a force - but the rest of the team not so much. The Senegalese seven-footer grabbed 10 rebounds by halftime and chipped in five points and two blocks, though missed passes marred an otherwise fine first half. He ended the game with an brutally effective 10 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots. Unfortunately the rest of the team has considerable work to do on the glass.

"That's just one of the things we just have not done a good job with" Romar explained. "And we have to keep working at it, keep getting better. I think tonight was a good wake up call, we don't like learning from defeat. In victory our guys were able to see this is what happens when we don't box out, a team like Loyola went to work on us on the offensive glass."

Washington gave up 19 offensive rebounds for the game, versus just nine of their own. In that aspect, they failed miserably. The rest of the front court was largely irrelevant, especially early. Freshman Jernard Jarreau started the game, adding significant length to the starting lineup but was largely ineffective despite flashing his potential late in the game. The combination of Jarreau and sophomores Desmond Simmons and Martin Breunig combined for a meager 12 points and six rebounds in 49 total minutes. With Shawn Kemp sidelined for the next 5-7 weeks of the season, that's the reality Washington is faced with. Romar substituted the trio liberally trying to find a rotation that worked.

Defensively the Huskies shined. After enduring last season's painfully poor defensive execution, it was heartening to see a Husky team defend the way they are supposed to. The Huskies were smothering, using their length to bottle up the paint while pressuring the perimeter mercilessly. Andrews and Jarreau were two of the toughest defenders on the floor. It's clear that they put their redshirt year to good use. Washington rejected eight shots on the night spread among five different players. They also limited the Greyhounds to just 36 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from deep. Washington will take those numbers every game.

From a broader perspective the Huskies' win is a good sign for the Pac-12, which managed to survive its first weekend without a single RPI-killing loss. That's a far cry from the last couple years. Their win was a convincing victory over a quality, likely NCAA Tournament-bound team.

Right now, the only people paying attention to the Washington Huskies reside in Seattle. If Sunday's game is any indication that won't be the case for long.

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