SEATTLE – Playing an exhibition more than two weeks before the start of the regular season, Washington got the challenge it hoped for from Division II Western Washington.
And maybe a bit more of a contest than the Huskies expected.
C.J. Wilcox scored 21 points, Andrew Andrews and Abdul Gaddy each added 14, and Washington held off the defending Division II national champion Vikings 88-78 on Wednesday night.
"First game is always kind of off, a little bit nervous every time you play your first game," Wilcox said. "There were a lot of expectations about what this team was going to be but I thought we came out here and got to see where we were at which is good and what we need to work on."
The Huskies' lone exhibition game before beginning the regular season Nov. 11 became a major headache because the Vikings would not go away. Down by 10 early in the second half, Western Washington pulled even on three occasions in the final 10 minutes and had possessions with the chance to take the lead but could never pull in front.
Consecutive steals and dunks by Jernard Jarreau and Wilcox in the final 2 minutes gave Washington an 11-point lead and finally some cushion.
John Allen and Chris Mitchell led the Vikings with 17 points each. The matchup with Washington was just the precursor to Saturday when Western Washington travels to Durham, N.C., to face Duke.
Paul Jones added 15 for the Vikings, who returned three starters off last season's team that won the first national title in school history.
"I think we were excited for the entire first half for the environment and not really focusing in on what we're supposed to do," WWU coach Tony Dominguez said.
Washington took a 10-point lead with 16:43 left, only to see the Vikings respond with a 13-4 run. Allen and Mitchell started the spurt with consecutive 3s and Mitchell capped the run with a left-handed, line-drive bank shot in the lane to cut the Huskies' lead to 59-58 with 13:24 left.
Rico Wilkins later scored five straight points for the Vikings and Austin Bragg's rebound follow with 9:58 left pulled the Vikings even at 65-65. Three times during the next 2 minutes, the Vikings had open looks at 3-pointers with the chance to take the lead but couldn't connect and Aziz N'Diaye's hook in the lane gave Washington a 69-67 lead with 7:23 left.
Jones scored to pull the Vikings back even at 69, but a pair of free throws by Gaddy and a 3 from Wilcox gave the Huskies a 74-69 lead. Jones' three-point play pulled the Vikings within two, but Washington ran off 12 of the next 15 points to put away the Vikings.
Scott Suggs added 13 for Washington.
The exhibition was the debut of the Huskies' new high-post offense. After years of using its athleticism to run a highly successful motion offense, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar wanted a more stable system to run based around his personnel not only this season but in the future.
At times it was awkward and clunky. When Washington ran it efficiently, the Huskies got the shots they wanted, either on screens to the giving a path to the basket or open jumpers from the perimeter. Washington shot 52 percent in the first half and also made its way to the free-throw line plenty, outscoring Western 32-14 at the line.
"I thought our guys did a pretty good job running it. I thought we got some pretty good looks at the basket," Romar said. "... I our guys did a pretty good. I thought we ran it pretty well for an exhibition game."