VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Washington guard Jaylen Nowell didn’t have a great explanation for what happened in the first half.
“The ball just happened to come to me a lot,” Nowell said. “It was a blur.”
Nowell scored 21 points in the first half, matched his career-high with 32 points, and Washington overcame sluggish stretches to beat Santa Clara 82-68 on Sunday night in the Vancouver Showcase.
The inaugural event taking place at the Vancouver Convention Centre saw Nowell erupt in the first half, hitting 7 of 9 shots and all three of his 3-point attempts. The 21 points were the most Nowell scored in the first half of any game in his career and the 32 matched his total from the first game of his college career a year ago in Washington’s season opener against Belmont.
“Special player, efficient, gets in the lane, tough to guard. Just lucky he is on our team,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said.
Dominic Green scored 13 points off the bench for Washington (3-1) and Noah Dickerson added 11, but it was an inconsistent performance by the Huskies in the second half. Washington had plenty of chance to put away Santa Clara, leading by 19 at one point, but was sloppy enough and at times too sluggish on defense and let the Broncos hang around.
“I thought our defense was lackluster. We need to be better there,” Hopkins said. “For the most part we’ve got to be more consistent. Some of our turnovers were pretty awful and I sit there sometimes and shake my head and say ‘what just happened?’ But to be able to come out with a win; we’ve just got to keep getting better.”
Josip Vrankic led Santa Clara (0-3) with 21 points and Keshawn Justice had 15, but the Broncos didn’t have the answers to slow down Nowell.
Santa Clara played its first game since learning all-conference guard KJ Feagin will be out indefinitely after suffering a broken bone in his left hand during the Broncos’ loss to UC Irvine last week. Feagin averaged 17.5 points per game last season, but had struggled in the first two games to start the 2018-19 season.
“I think offensively our guys tried to execute the game plan and thought they did a good job of moving the ball and playing unselfishly,” Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek said. “We left far too many points at the free-throw line and didn’t make enough shots. I thought more than that we needed to play better than we did defensively.”
Nowell carried Washington for most of the first half, scoring 12 straight during one stretch and 15 of the Huskies’ first 22 points. No other Washington player had more than five points, but the Huskies still had a 42-32 lead at the break.
Despite Nowell scoring with ease early, the Broncos cut Washington’s lead within six several times in the latter stages of the first half, delighting the handful of supporters who showed up in vintage Steve Nash Santa Clara jerseys. But those cheers were muted after Washington scored nine of the first 11 points to start the second half. The Huskies led by as many as 19 in the early stages of the half, but Santa Clara pulled within 10 on Justice’s driving layup with 5:34 left. He missed the free throw with a chance to cut the lead to nine and Willie Caruso missed another chance to get the lead in single-digits. Green hit a pair of 3s and Washington’s lead was back to a comfortable margin.
Santa Clara: The Broncos are integrating eight new players from last year in Sendek’s third season. Feagin was one of three rotational players returning, along with Vrankic and Henrik Jadersten. … The Broncos were just 12 of 21 at the free-throw line and 4 of 19 on 3-pointers.
Washington: The Huskies improved to 6-1 all-time against Santa Clara and are 2-0 this season against West Coast Conference teams having beat San Diego. … The Huskies were 26 of 34 at the free-throw line. … Guard Matisse Thybulle suffered an ankle injury in practice on Saturday and was limited to 23 minutes. He scored two points.
Washington was ranked No. 25 in the preseason AP Top 25, but fell out of the poll after losing at Auburn. It’s unlikely two wins over WCC teams will push Washington back into the Top 25 on Monday, but sweeping all three games in Vancouver might be enough the following week.
Santa Clara: The Broncos face Minnesota on Tuesday.
Washington: The Huskies face Texas A&M on Tuesday.
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