Following a college basketball game that for long stretches Friday night struggled to resemble one, Washington Huskies coach Mike Hopkins offered a golf analogy.
“Do you golf? Are you in the sand trap a lot? I’m sure you are. I am,” he said. “When you’re in the sand trap a lot, you’re just like, ‘Get me out of it.’ You know the ones that go and they hit (the edge) and roll right back? You’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, keep your head down.’ All of those different things.
“In a basketball game, you’re just trying to find a way.”
It took the No. 25 Huskies until midway through the second half to finally put away a one-win Montana team that lost to NAIA program Montana Tech just four days earlier.
But, behind a decisive run over the final 10 minutes, UW did eventually break free of the trap, slipping away from the Grizzlies for a 73-56 victory at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
The path there was just more troublesome than the Huskies (4-1) may have expected. The game was chippy and at times sloppy at both ends. It slogged on as the foul count gradually ticked up.
The teams combined for 51 total fouls — Montana (1-4) committed 33 of those to UW’s 18 — including three technicals. There were trips to the free throw line seemingly every few seconds, and 59 attempted, including 46 by the Huskies.
UW turned the ball over 21 times, and the Grizzlies coughed it up 20.
Montana shot just 33.3 percent from the floor. The Huskies were better at 45.2, boosted by a strong second half, but finished 0-for-11 from 3-point range, while the Grizzlies converted 9 of their 22 tries.
In short, it was long and taxing, but for the Huskies eventually delivered the desired result.
“It was hard playing in that type of game,” Huskies guard Jamal Bey said. “There’s no rhythm. We had no rhythm. But, we’ve got to push through.”
Huskies forward Sam Timmins, in his fourth season with the program, said it was better for this young team to play this type of grind-it-out game sooner rather than later.
“We ran into some adversity tonight,” he said. “The earlier you can go through that as a team and learn how to get through that ... that’s all experiences we can get better from.”
The pace was stunted for much of the contest by the frequent stoppages in play, but the Huskies adapted well enough in the second half, methodically extending a late lead possession by possession.
UW pushed its lead out to as many as 19 points, stringing together a collection of free throws and short baskets on 12 of its final 19 possessions. During the decisive run, freshman Jaden McDaniels, a Federal Way product, seemed to unleash all of the frustrations of the game with a single flick of his wrist.
Moments after the Huskies had taken their biggest lead of the game to that point on a pair of free throws from freshman Isaiah Stewart that made it 58-46 with 6:19 to play, Nahziah Carter missed a jumper on UW’s following possession.
McDaniels scooped the ball in midair and slammed it back into the hoop.
The echo of boos that persisted from the crowd of 8,370 throughout the game suddenly gave way to a thunderous cheer. McDaniels tacked on a free throw, and UW’s lead never dipped below double digits after that.
Stewart finished with a game-high 18 points — including 13 down the stretch — despite playing less than 15 minutes. He picked up three fouls in the first half, and spent most of the second half on the bench too after collecting his fourth with less than two minutes gone after the break.
Others contributed in his absence, particularly on defense, Hopkins said. And on offense, the Huskies did what was needed. McDaniels added 14 points and six rebounds, and Carter had 13 points and seven rebounds. Four more UW players pitched in five or more points Hameir Wright pulled down a game-high eight rebounds.
“It’s priceless to be able to get opportunities to teach and win,” Hopkins said. “I don’t think we played great. I don’t think we played great at all. Did we play pretty good in some areas? Yes. To be able to win and teach, I think it’s going to be really beneficial to this team.”
Montana took its only lead two minutes into the second half when Sayeed Pridgett — who scored 13 points, but fouled out with 8:21 remaining in the second half — connected on a 3-pointer from the corner.
But, Quade Green answered for the Huskies seconds later, and they didn’t trail the rest of the way.
Kendal Manuel scored a team-high 15 points for the Grizzlies, but no other Montana players apart from him and Pridgett reached double figures.
Washington controlled much of the first half, scoring on its first four possessions to jump out to a 9-0 lead.
McDaniels wasted little time dropping in a short floater 20 seconds in, Stewart scored five points in the first three minutes, and seven Huskies scored in the opening half to build the lead as high as 11 points.
A collection of turnovers and offensive fouls, and Stewart spending most of the half on the bench, helped cold-shooting Montana hang around. The Grizzlies connected on just two of their first 17 shots, and leaned on several trips to the free throw line.
Josh Vazquez hit the Grizzlies’ first 3-pointer nearly four minutes into the game, and Manuel hit the second, but not before another five minutes had elapsed.
And Pridgett, who was averaging a team-high 18.5 points per game for Montana entering the day, was quiet until midway through the first half. He took his first shot with 9:07 remaining, and didn’t convert his first bucket until hitting a corner 3-pointer with 2:44 to go.
But, that shot was part of a 14-7 Grizzlies run to close the half. Montana never led before the break, but Pridgett’s short jumper in the paint did square the game up at 29-29 with 1:19 to go.
Bey countered just ahead of the buzzer, dribbling down the baseline and muscling a layup between a pair of defenders to give the Huskies a basket advantage at halftime.