SEATTLE - Tonight, I had the chance to get out to Hec Edmundson Pavilion for the first time in the regular season to see the University of Washington (having previously watched UW beat an overmatched Central Washington squad in its exhibition game). The Huskies completed a sweep of the four-team, round-robin Athletes in Action Classic by crushing Portland State, 111-55. Borrowing the familiar format Bradford Doolittle and I have used for live NBA action, here are five key takeaways from tonight's game.
1. Quincy Pondexter is the Man in Montlake
Quincy Pondexter exemplifies what I love about college sports: the ability to watch a youngster develop as a player and a person over four years. Pondexter arrived at UW a highly-touted recruit and spoke openly during his freshman season about going one-and-done at the NCAA level before moving on to the pros. Fate had other plans. Pondexter was humbled by his freshman and sophomore seasons, but remade himself as an invaluable role player last year. Now, as the only senior on a youthful Husky roster, Pondexter knows this is his team and he is playing like it.
What Pondexter demonstrated this evening is the ability to marry last season's hustle plays with NBA-caliber talent. Washington coach Lorenzo Romar told the radio crew after the game that Pondexter was as active as he'd ever seen, as born out by his career-high-tying 13 rebounds. However, Pondexter also demonstrated the ability to control the game at times with improved ballhandling and shooting. The best example of everything coming together took place on the final play of the first half, when Romar called a 1-4 flat isolation play for Pondexter, who made defender Dominic Waters look silly with a crossover before planting a pullup jumper to give him an even 20 points in the half. Pondexter finished with 29, a new career high, and made 11 of his 12 shot attempts. Equally telling was that Pondexter had three assists and nary a turnover in 27 minutes of action.
2. The Huskies' Strength is Their Depth
The margins of Washington's three wins over the weekend: 5, 18, 56. While the progression surely said something about the level of competition--after giving the hosts an early scare on Friday, Wright State went on to win its next two games to claim second place in the tournament--it also reflects the value of the Huskies' depth when asked to play three games in as many nights. Romar substituted liberally, using 11 different players as part of his rotation during the tournament. Washington's second unit has the potential to be as good as any in the country, and allows Romar to use a variety of different looks.
While the Huskies are starting a bigger lineup with the 6'6" Pondexter at small forward, he'll also spend plenty of time as the four-man to get more shooting on the court. Washington has played a three-guard lineup of 5'8" Isaiah Thomas, 5'11" Venoy Overton and 6'3" Abdul Gaddy at times that creates major mismatches at both ends. Any of the three players can initiate the offense. Romar also has a variety of other options on the wing, with sophomore Scott Suggs emerging as the most athletic option among a reserve trio that also includes defensive specialist Justin Holiday and sharpshooter Elston Tuner.
3. Scouting Gaddy
Gaddy, a one-time Arizona commit who is projected as the No. 3 overall pick in DraftExpress' 2011 mock draft, is naturally the main curiosity among the Husky newcomers. Gaddy has waded into the NCAA pool slowly, playing off the bench behind Overton and Thomas. Tentative at times, Gaddy began to show more of his wares during garbage time against Portland State, driving to the basket to create offense. A true point guard, Gaddy also had four assists against just one turnover in his best passing game thus far. With time, his ability to find teammates should make the Washington offense more dangerous and open up opportunities for him to call his own number. At the defensive end, Gaddy is a work in progress as he acclimates to Romar's high-pressure style on the perimeter. He has the tools to be a quality defender, but is still prone to being beaten off the dribble at this point as he relies on his physical gifts too heavily.
4. Vikings Finding Themselves
It was a rough weekend for Portland State, which dropped all three games to finish last among the four teams. The Vikings are coming off consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, the first two in program history, but suffered a pair of major losses. Mighty mite Jeremiah Dominguez, the 2007-08 Big Sky Player of the Year, graduated after two fine seasons. Meanwhile, head coach Ken Bone jumped at the chance to move to the Pac-10 and replace Tony Bennett at Washington State. Portland State promoted assistant Tyler Geving to the top role. The Vikings still have talent, including Washington transfer Phil Nelson (whose hot early shooting led Portland State to a brief 10-4 lead before the Husky defense began paying him more attention), sharpshooting guard Waters and JC transfer Melvin Jones, who caused Washington problems with his quickness but was unable to finish.
The size difference was too much for the Vikings in this matchup, but a distinct shortcoming of energy played a factor in the Huskies' unthinkable first-half dominance of the glass--26 rebounds to four for Portland State, including a 78.6 percent offensive rebound rate. It is troubling that the Vikings seemed so outmatched; a year ago, they rallied late in the game and lost at Hec Ed by just one point (Washington did play without NBA-bound senior Jon Brockman). The following game, Portland State pulled off a stunning upset of Gonzaga at the Kennel. The Vikings have a long ways to go to reach that point this season.
5. Can Isaiah Thomas Suddenly Shoot?
On Saturday, Belmont coach Rick Byrd delivered a classic quote about Thomas, the Huskies' diminutive scoring guard.
"What are you going to do when all of a sudden Thomas is a daggone 3-point shooter when he's shooting 30 percent for his career?" Byrd said after the game. "And when he can do that, how the hay do you keep him from driving because he may be as hard to guard, driving the basketball, as I've ever seen."
Indeed, Thomas managed to win Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors despite a perimeter game that was iffy at best. Early in his sophomore campaign, he's shown an improved stroke beyond the arc. Thomas followed up his 4-of-5 three-point shooting against Belmont by making four triples in seven attempts tonight. That makes him 10-of-19 (52.6 percent) on the season, and while he's unlikely to continue at that pace, Thomas is already more than a quarter of the way to last year's total of 39 three-pointers (he made them at a 29.1 percent clip).
Besides making his left-handed forays to the basket more challenging to the defend, developing his three-point shooting could help Thomas improve his efficiency. His True Shooting Percentage was just 51.1 percent last season because Thomas was so dependent on two-point shots.
For more on the University of Washington and the rest of the NCAA's major-conference teams, pick up College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10, available now in .PDF and printed formats.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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