The Washington Huskies, in all likelihood, need to win at least three of their final four regular-season games to remain in contention for an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. On Tuesday, they will depart for Corvallis, where they will face a pesky Oregon State team on Wednesday night at Gill Coliseum. Then it’s on to Oregon and Matthew Knight Arena, where the Ducks have not yet lost this season.
First, though, they had to dispatch the Stanford Cardinal, a lower-tier conference team that still possesses enough talent to beat anyone in the league, and certainly enough to beat the Huskies.
Washington avoided such a fate, though, behind a stellar defensive effort and 25 points from star freshman guard Dejounte Murray in a grimy, 64-53 victory before a crowd of 9,161 on Saturday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
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It was the first in a series of must-win contests for the Huskies, who improved their overall record to 16-11 and their Pac-12 mark to 8-7. And it snapped a four-game losing streak.
For that reason, coach Lorenzo Romar offered something of an exhale afterward.
“It feels good to be back on the other side tonight,” Romar said. “I thought our guys did a tremendous job on the defensive end.”
They did, and they probably would not have won if they hadn’t. UW held Stanford (13-12, 6-8) to just 32.7 percent shooting from the field — and 25.0 percent in the second half — and forced 20 Cardinal turnovers, the most Stanford has committed in a Pac-12 game this season. The Huskies turned those takeaways — some of them were giveaways — into 23 points.
That helped compensate for UW’s own poor shooting. Senior guard Andrew Andrews was nursing a strained medial-collateral ligament in his knee — he sustained the injury during a collision in the game against California on Thursday, but still played 36 minutes against Stanford despite missing Friday’s practice — the Huskies were, in effect, missing a piece of their offense.
Andrews, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, finished with only eight points and didn’t make a field goal. UW’s bench players — Dominic Green, David Crisp and Noah Dickerson — combined to shoot 0 for 14 from the field. The Huskies missed all but three of their 22 3-point attempts, shot only 40.8 percent from the field and committed 17 turnovers against Stanford’s varying zone defense.
But they had Murray, and Murray had one of his best games. The freshman guard made 10 of 14 from the field and was UW’s most aggressive player against Stanford’s zone. He picked his spots admirably, attacking gaps in the defense and scoring with an array of tricky layups and accurate floaters. He also led the Huskies with nine rebounds.
“This is the best he’s played against zone all year,” Romar said. “He did a very good job. He’s very calculated. He was very, very efficient.”
Murray and Romar also praised Andrews for running the offense adeptly despite his injury. The senior finished with six assists — including several alley-oop passes for dunks behind Stanford’s extended zone — and zero turnovers.
“Just move the ball and try to get through the gaps,” Murray said of his strategy against the unique Stanford defense. “Whatever’s open. That’s what we did, and that’s what our captain (Andrews) did tonight. He didn’t really care about scoring, as you can tell. He was facilitating the whole game.”
After an ugly first half produced a 26-26 halftime tie, Stanford led only once in the second half, at 31-30, after a Rosco Allen free throw with 15:59 to play. The Huskies gradually pushed their lead from five points to eight, to 10, and to 15 on Murray’s runout, one-handed slam with 40 seconds to play.
Junior forward Malik Dime, making his second consecutive start, scored 10 points and had three dunks. Freshman forward Marquese Chriss added 11 points and had a pair of alley-oop dunks. The Huskies moved the ball better in the second half, shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 11 of 16 on shots inside the 3-point arc.
“(If) we just start to make normal shots we’re supposed to make, I think that could put us in a situation where we could finish really strong,” Romar said. “But eventually, especially on the road, we’re going to have to make shots.”
Because they prevented Stanford from doing that, the Huskies will at least trek south with their losing streak extinguished.
That was their most important accomplishment on Saturday.
“We talked early about being able to sustain your effort and being able to play through games where the ball doesn’t go in the basket,” Romar said, “and I thought tonight was a great example of that.”
Game in review
Player of the game: Huskies guard Dejounte Murray led all scorers with 25 points and led UW with nine rebounds. He slashed to the rim effectively against Stanford’s funky 3-2ish zone defense, making 10 of 14 from the field while playing a team-high 37 minutes. He was UW’s best offensive option all game.
It was over when: Stanford missed a shot and had to foul Andrew Andrews with 1:00 remaining, with UW leading 59-49.
Stat of the game: Stanford had more turnovers (20) than made field goals (18), and shot just 25 percent (8 for 32) from the field in the second half.
Quotable: “The wins haven’t shown, but I still feel like we are more of an efficient basketball team than we were three or four weeks ago. You would think, ‘Well, then, you should have more victories.’ Yeah, I would think that, too. But I do think we are a more efficient team, offensively and defensively, right now.” — UW coach Lorenzo Romar
What it means: This was a game the Huskies simply could not afford to lose, and they didn’t, so chalk that up as a positive. They didn’t shoot the ball well and turned it over too often, but mostly played stellar defense and were able to make enough plays to pull away in the final minutes. Better offense will be required this week at Oregon State and Oregon.
Up next: Washington at Oregon State, 8 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU