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November 30, 2009

Washington holds on against Montana

The Washington Huskies defeated the Montana Grizzlies, 63-59 Sunday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, raising their record to 5-0 in advance of their first road trip of the season.

The least you should know:

The Huskies never got going offensively against Montana's matchup zone defense, shooting 24.2% in the first half, and 30.8% for the game.

Elston Turner was the closest thing the Huskies had to an offensive star tonight, scoring 11 points on 4-8 shooting, but only hit 2-6 from beyond-the arc.

Abdul Gaddy and Tyreese Breshers logged their first career starts, although Gaddy's start sounds impermanent since it was due to Venoy Overton being late for shootaround.

The narrative:

Statistically, the opening games to the 2009/2010 season provided plenty of milestones for the Huskies to be proud of: their biggest margin of victory in almost four years, career scoring bests for several key players, and the distinction of never being behind in a game in the second half. A ten-point victory over San Jose State was the Huskies' closest call yet before Sunday's game at Hec Ed against Montana.

Stymied into a 30.8% shooting performance by the Grizzlies matchup zone, it took a blocked shot from Husky point guard, Venoy Overton, with under ten seconds remaining to preserve a 63-59 victory that, on paper, was the Huskies worst performance yet.

Husky coach Lorenzo Romar saw the battle differently, calling it "a great, great game for our team. We were really tested," he said. "We couldn't get a shot to fall, but yet our guys continued to chip away and we were able to come up with a victory."

The Huskies were down five points at the half, and fell behind 38-26 with 14:30 to go in the game on a jump shot by Montana guard Will Cherry. The 12-point deficit was the Dawgs' largest yet this season. Then Washington fought back to tie the game five minutes later, with Elston Turner scoring seven of his 11 points during that key stretch, but then relinquished the lead to Montana with 2:42 remaining, falling behind 57-55.

Down two, Quincy Pondexter made an appearance, tying the game 57-57 on a short jumper. He was fouled on the play, and the team went ahead for good on the ensuing free throw. Moments later, with the Huskies ahead 62-59, Overton clinched the victory by blocking Anthony Johnson's three-point attempt to tie the game.

Washington's brightest stars, Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas, each averaging more than 20 points per game so far, combined for two points in the first half, and only totaled 20 for the game, shooting a combined 7-26 from the field.

"They were just really solid in everything they did on the defensive end of the floor," Pondexter said. "It was hard for us to get cracks at the rim sometimes."

This was the second straight game in which the Huskies faced almost exclusively zone defense, and the second straight game in which they've struggled to find a rhythm offensively.

"It's hard for teams to match up defensively man-to-man. We're going to see a lot of zone defenses and they're really going to try to get us to shoot from the outside and I think we are going to be able to knock it down," Pondexter said.

Overton had a strong game off the bench, finishing with 10 points, four assists and zero turnovers. He had no steals, and looked like he'd be shut out on the defensive stat sheet before his critical blocked shot.

Darnell Gant, coming off the bench for the first time this season, and reserve guard, Turner, were on the court during much of the game's decisive stretch.

"As far as we're concerned, the MVP of this game was our bench," Romar said. "Our bench did a tremendous job coming off ready to play."

For the first time this season, Abdul Gaddy started at point guard ahead of Overton, who was serving a small penalty imposed by the coaching staff for arriving late to the pre-game shootaround.

The decision to start Tyreese Breshers over Gant, though, was a strategic one by Romar, who gave no indication of whether the change would be permanent.

"Tyreese is our second best rebounder per minute. And we decided to go with him for the rebounding, and, not only that, he's been playing well," Romar said.

The Huskies next game will be their first road contest of the season. They head to Lubbock, Texas, to play a 7-0 Texas Tech team that has already beaten one Pac-10 school, Oregon State.

"Y'know, this game provided some of the adversity the road provides. A little bit. Y'know, first half, maybe Quincy should've got a call here or there. We shot twenty percent, twenty-four percent, whatever," Romar said of his team tonight.

"We couldn't get anything to fall," Romar continued. "Those are some of the things that happen sometimes on the road. I'm glad we were able to play this game before we hit the road. Because I think it's going to make us better mentally for Thursday night."

Analysis and Observation:

The Huskies shooting in the first half was borderline humorous. Thomas and Pondexter combined to go 1-12, and this had the feeling very early of a game that would go down to the wire.

Husky of the Game: Elston Turner. Turner was clutch during the run that erased the 12-point deficit, and also hit the boards tonight. He finished with 11 points and five rebounds, and still missed a couple of open looks that he should be hitting come midseason. As long as teams choose to zone up the Huskies, Elston Turner is the best fit as the team's third scoring threat behind Quincy and Isaiah.

Point guard battle: All Venoy tonight. 10 points, three rebounds, four assists, no turnovers. Still, though, neither Venoy or Abdul Gaddy (zero points, two assists, one t/o, in 17 minutes) looked like they knew how to get the offense going against Montana's zone.

Justin Holiday shot 0-3 in five minutes during the first half, and then didn't get off the bench in the second half until the final minute of the game. I'm concerned about his playing time if he doesn't convert on more of his offensive opportunities.

Didn't get a chance to ask him about it after the game, but Coach Romar was fuming after Quincy Pondexter received a foul call about four minutes into the second half. He made it all the way to center court, screaming at the officials, before one of the refs took notice and came over.

Ironically, the night he earns his first start was the least impressed I've been with Tyreese Breshers. He finished with four points and two rebounds in 16 minutes (12 being in the first half).

Redshirting guard C.J. Wilcox was in uniform tonight, but Coach said it meant nothing. It's just easier for him to wear his uni than to put together street clothes for each game.

The Huskies play Texas Tech, which is 7-0, in Lubbock on Thursday afternoon at 4:00 P.M. PST. You can catch the game on ESPN2.


Josh Anderson is the publisher of Montlake Madness, a 100 percent free fan site dedicated to University of Washington basketball. UDUBsports.com will be teaming up with Josh for the basketball season to provide even more comprehensive coverage of all the action!


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