Marquese Chriss has played in all of the Washington Huskies’ basketball games this season. It just hasn’t necessarily felt like it.
A 6-foot-9 forward with elite leaping ability and a reliable short-range jumper, Chriss is a legitimate NBA prospect and should be one of UW’s best offensive players. And he is, when he can stay on the floor. But that has been a struggle this season for Chriss, who has fouled out of nine of UW’s 18 games and five of the past six.
But in Wednesday night’s 95-83 victory against Colorado, the freshman showed just how different the Huskies can be when he contributes without the burden of foul trouble.
He still fouled out of that game, mind you. But he didn’t pick up his fourth foul until 5:12 remained, and he didn’t foul out until the final minute. At no point was his playing time restricted by the number of fouls he committed. That’s progress.
29 times Washington players have fouled out this season, leading the nation
Impressive progress, too, because of the stat line Chriss accumulated: 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting, six rebounds and five blocked shots in 23 minutes. The Huskies could use similar production Sunday, when they host the Utah Utes (14-5, 3-3 Pac-12) at 5:30 p.m.
On Wednesday night, UW coach Lorenzo Romar remarked: “He makes a big difference with our team. We’re very fortunate to have the record that we have with him being in as much foul trouble.”
Watching Chriss against Colorado was a little like watching a star player return from injury. He caught alley-oop passes and crushed ferocious dunks. He caught the ball in the post and spun and made jumpers. He busted a nasty spin move on the baseline for an uncontested dunk. And he teamed with junior forward Malik Dime to protect the rim better than any UW team ever has, helping the Huskies set the single-game school record for blocked shots with 15.
It was as if the Huskies just added a new player to their roster, even though Chriss is the third-leading scorer on the team at 11.3 points per game and has scored 20-plus twice this season. But he’s averaging only 22.2 minutes per game, fewer than any other UW starter, and that’s partially because he too often picks up two or three fouls in the first half and has to sit. According to TeamRankings.com, Chriss commits 4.06 fouls per game, more than all but two other players in the country.
Other UW players have struggled, too: Freshman forward Noah Dickerson commits the 13th-most fouls in the country at 3.78 per game, and the Huskies commit more fouls per game (24.6) than all but one other Division-I team. They’ve also had players foul out of games 29 times this year, a figure that leads the country.
Chriss, a Sacramento native, said he’s had conversations with Romar about how to correct his fouling habit.
“If the ball is up in front of me, I can get it,” Chriss said, “but try not to jump on people, land on people, push people in the back.”
He also says he’s calmer than he was earlier in the season, when Romar realized the freshman had a hard time moving past his mistakes. Little things ate at him. He’d hang his head and let one error turn into several.
That’s when Chriss began seeing a sports psychologist to help him better control his emotions.
“It’s just something that hadn’t been checked over the years,” Romar said. “Something that maybe he didn’t see the need — like, ‘OK, yeah, I may get distracted here or there, but I’m OK.’ And I think here, once he started playing, he saw he maybe needed to pay a little more attention to it. So he did, and he went out and did something about it and got some help. He’s been a lot better.”
Now, Romar said, “He may react to a certain situation, to an adverse situation, but then he comes right back quicker, whereas before, maybe it would take a longer time to get back dialed in.”
Romar said that attitude can help the talented freshman move past the frustration over his foul trouble.
And if he can move past the foul trouble itself, the Huskies will be that much better.
Utah (14-5, 3-3 Pac-12) at Washington (13-5, 5-1)
5:30 p.m., Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Seattle
TV: ESPNU. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7 FM.
All-time series: Tied, 9-9.
Statistics for 2015-16:
11 Brandon Taylor, G (5-10, sr.): 9.3 ppg, 3.4 apg
15 Lorenzo Bonam, G (6-4, jr.): 10.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.1 apg
21 Jordan Loveridge, F (6-6, sr.): 11.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg
35 Kyle Kuzma, F (6-9, so.): 11.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg
42 Jakob Poeltl, F (7-0, so.): 16.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg
12 Andrew Andrews, G (6-2, sr.): 22.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.9 apg
5 Dejounte Murray, G (6-4.5, fr.): 15.1, 6.0 rpg, 4.7 apg
4 Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, fr.): 5.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg
15 Noah Dickerson, F (6-8, fr.): 8.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg
0 Marquese Chriss, F (6-9, fr.): 11.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg
Scouting report: Despite losing do-everything guard Delon Wright to graduation, the Utes were picked by media to finish third this season in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. They mostly played well during nonconference play — a 90-66 loss to Miami notwithstanding — and defeated Duke at Madison Square Garden in December. But Utah lost three of its first four league games — at California, at Stanford and home against Oregon — before beating Oregon State and Washington State to pull even at 3-3. … Poeltl is Utah’s best player and a potential top-10 NBA draft pick. He might be the most difficult post player to defend in the Pac-12, and he shoots 64.2 percent from the field. … Bonam is Utah’s only regular contributor who didn’t play last season. He doesn’t shoot many 3-pointers but does shoot a high percentage on those shots (48.3 percent), and shoots 51.4 percent from the field and 81.3 percent at the free-throw line. He’s also a tough cover. … Taylor is struggling from 3-point range this season (29.0 percent) after shooting 43.9 percent last year. He’s fifth on the team in scoring and leads the team in assists. … Utah’s 48.5 percent field-goal mark ranks third in the Pac-12, and the Utes rank fifth in defensive field-goal percentage at 41.1 percent — though they allow opponents to shoot 39.8 percent from 3-point range, the worst such figure in the Pac-12. Their 72.1 percent mark at the free-throw line ranks second in the league. … UW coach Lorenzo Romar said there is “a good chance” that freshman forward Devenir Duruisseau will be available after missing the Huskies’ past three games due to a concussion.