No. 16 Washington hangs on to beat No. 15 Oklahoma in Las Vegas

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Despite having one of the best shooters in the country in C.J. Wilcox, Washington wasn’t all that consistent last season as they posted a record of 17-15 (9-9 Pac-12). Two issues stuck out for Lorenzo Romar’s team a season ago: they didn’t have much in the way of size in the front court, and offensively the ball didn’t move as freely as it tends to for successful teams.

Through ten games the 16th-ranked Huskies have shown signs of progress, with their most recent victory being a 69-67 win over No. 15 Oklahoma at the MGM Grand Showcase in Las Vegas. Of course there are concerns in the aftermath of this game, most notably the fact that they nearly squandered a 20-point first half lead, but their returnees have performed well and the Huskies are a deeper team than they were a season ago.

During Washington’s 26-7 first half run multiple players stepped forward, including reserves Donaven Dorsey, Darin Johnson and Robert Upshaw, and starter Mike Anderson knocked down a couple shots as well. All eight players who saw action for the Huskies scored at least six points, with Jernard Jarreau scoring 12 to lead the way. Those contributions helped the Huskies hang on despite leading scorers Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews combining to score 14 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the field.

Last season, a similar performance from either of those two (or Wilcox for that matter) was highly unlikely to result in a win because Washington didn’t have enough contributors capable of picking up the slack.

But back to Upshaw, who has been the most important reserve for the Huskies this season. Not only did Washington lack size in the front court last season but they also lacked a player capable of making a difference defensively, which ultimately impacted the way in which they defended both in the post and on the perimeter. Now that Washington has a player capable of blocking and changing shots in the middle, their guards can get back to the aggressive perimeter defense that has been a staple of Romar’s most successful teams in Seattle.

Outside of Isaiah Cousins, who scored 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the field, Oklahoma’s guards (sans Frank Booker, who remained home due to a back issue) weren’t all that efficient Saturday night. Buddy Hield scored 17 as well but he needed 13 field goal attempts to do so, and Jordan Woodard accounted for seven points (3-for-9 FG) and five assists.

As a team Oklahoma shot just over 42 percent, but they were able to work their way back into the game with increased intensity on the defensive end in the second half. The key for Oklahoma moving forward is to make sure the energy is consistent, because that wasn’t the case int he first half.

How good can Washington be? Despite some asking questions regarding the overall strength of their schedule, the Huskies do have some results that will look good as the season wears on. The wins over UTEP and Oklahoma may have come on neutral courts, and their win over San Diego State came at home, but those are results that can make a difference come March.

Most importantly the results give Washington confidence that they can be a factor in the Pac-12 race, something few people outside of Seattle expected back in October.