By Rich Ruben
The 12-2 Trojans play the Huskies Sunday at 7:00 at Alaska Airlines Arena on campus at UW. The Huskies are 10-4 and are coming off consecutive losses to Houston and UCLA. The upset by the Bruins was particularly surprising. The other two losses were to Tennessee and Gonzaga, and their best win was over Baylor. The Huskies began the week just outside the AP top 25, but that will change when the new rankings come out. They were ranked 21st two weeks ago.
In his third season at UW, head coach Mike Hopkins led the Huskies to a 27-9 record last year and first place in the regular season in the PAC 12. UW lost in the conference tournament finals to Oregon and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to North Carolina. Along the way, they beat SC by three in the PAC 12 Tournament. The Trojans had one final chance to tie the game in the closing seconds, but Nick Rakocevic lost control of the ball as he hurriedly dribbled up court.
Hopkins served on the staff at Syracuse for many years before landing the UW job. He was one of the final candidates that the Trojans considered when SC hired Andy Enfield. Under Hopkins, the Huskies are 3-0 against the Trojans. In his first two years, UW played exclusively the Syracuse 2-3 zone, but this year they have mixed in some man defense.
Washington lost their top four scorers from last year due to graduation. They were the core of the last few seasons’ success. The Huskies reloaded with a top recruiting class, led by two five star 6’9” forwards in Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. They also added former five star and Kentucky transfer 6’ guard Quade Green. Along with returning 6’6” junior guard Nahziah Carter, the Huskies have a very talented core. Former Trojan and Seattle native J’Raan Brooks is red shirting this season at UW. Brooks started to come into his own late last year for SC. Based largely on the new additions, the Huskies were picked to finish third in the Pac 12 preseason media poll.
The Huskies have plenty of talent. In a new NBA mock draft, McDaniels was projected to be picked 6th overall, SC’s Onyeka Okongwu was projected 10th, Stewart 15th and Carter mid second round. Stewart and McDaniels were on the preseason all conference first team (along with Nick Rakocevic), and Carter and Green were preseason honorable mention conference selections with SC’s Jonah Mathews and Isaiah Mobley. In a complete miss, Big O was not included on the preseason team. A big and noisy crowd is expected, and this will be the Trojans’ toughest road game so far. SC has won its previous three true road games, including Thursday night’s win over WSU.
Freshman Stewart is exactly the same size as Big O at 6’9” and 248 pounds, and their season stats are very similar. Going into the Thursday night games for both teams, Stewart was the top scoring freshman in the country at 19.7 ppg, and O was fourth at 17.7. O was third in freshman field goal percentage at 62.4% (which is higher now after his game at WSU) and Stewart fourth at 61.1%. Stewart was third in made field goals with 96, and even after missing a game last weekend, O was tied for third with 83. O is among the elite freshmen ranking second in blocked shots with 38 and tied for fourth in rebounds per game with 9.0 (Stewart is just behind at 8.8). This matchup will be fun to watch and a big key to the game.
McDaniels is 185 pounds, and plays on the perimeter at times. He has been compared to former Laker and current New Orleans Pelican forward Brandon Ingram. He is averaging 14 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, and is making 43% of his shots and 76% of his free throws. He is a respectable 18-49 from three (36%).
Carter is averaging 13 points and 5.8 boards, and is shooting 48% from the field, a very good 42% from three, and 67% from the line. Green averages 11.5 points, 5.4 assists and 2.2 turnovers.
As a team, the Huskies make 48% of their shots, 34% from three on about 18 attempts per game, and 73% from the line. Their team assist to turnover ratio is a little below 1:1.
Washington’s loss to UCLA by two points was due to three major factors. McDaniels was in foul trouble and scored only 3 points and played only 14 minutes. The Huskies allowed the Bruins to make a lot of threes. UCLA freshman Jack Kyman (a high school teammate of SC’s Max Agbonkpolo) entered their game having made 4 threes on the season, but made 7 more on Thursday night. And the Bruins out rebounded the Huskies by 11 and grabbed 15 offensive boards.
This game will feature SC’s three big men against the Huskies’ Stewart and McDaniel, and the Trojan guards against Carter and Green. These matchups will decide the game. UW will be favored, but the Trojans can win. To pull out a big victory, SC will need much more from practically everyone other than Big O than was displayed in SC’s game against the Cougars. O, Nick and Isaiah can match the Huskies’ duo, but Nick has his ups and downs and O sometimes does not have a big scoring game. SC needs a lot on both ends from both of them. The larger question is how well the guards play. Jonah has the ability to hold down Carter, and potentially match his scoring. The rest of the guards will need to take good shots, make some threes, and most importantly, take good care of the ball.
Under Hopkins the UW zone has been very tough, and a lot of balls get deflected and stolen. This Washington team is not as formidable on defense as last year, but the Trojans must cut their turnovers way down. They were doing a pretty good job recently in limiting TOs, until the last two games.
The freshmen will need to play with poise in front of a hostile crowd. They need to play under control against the zone, and move the ball to the free throw line by pass or dribble to set up shots inside or from the guards. The crowds at Nevada and TCU were loud, but this is a far better opponent. Two players who may be key for the Trojans are Elijah Weaver and Daniel Utomi. SC will need points and good defense from them both. Their play could decide this game.
Look Back At WSU Win
Even after a couple of days, the stats from Thursday night’s game continue to amaze. The Cougars took 34 more shots and lost. Somehow they made one less field goal. SC had 20 TOs and only 11 assists and won. No one besides Big O had more than three field goals. This all seems impossible and is certainly not a formula for success. On the other hand, the Trojans perimeter defense has not been better this season, and that defensive play plus a big game from the main man were enough to win against the Cougars.