SEATTLE — Scott Suggs knew that because Seattle emulated the bulldog-mentality of its coach, Washington’s annual city showdown with the Redhawks would be a test of the Huskies grit and toughness.
And that was before Suggs was forced to play through cramps in his legs and lower back.
“I don’t know what would have happened if he couldn’t play again,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “He was able to play and helped us quite a bit. He had maybe his best game as a Husky tonight.”
Suggs played through the cramps to score a career-high 24 points, Aziz N’Diaye added 14 points, and Washington led by as many as 27 in the first half en route to an 87-74 win over crosstown rival Seattle on Thursday night.
The renewal of the city’s basketball showdown continued to be completely one-sided in favor of the Huskies. Washington exposed Seattle’s porous pressure defense in the first half, then countered every surge the Redhawks made in the second half.
Washington (5-4) has now won eight straight in the series that took a nearly 30-year hiatus when the Redhawks (3-4) dropped from Division I, only to start the transition back to the top level of college hoops in 2008.
Chad Rasmussen led the Redhawks with 19 points and one-time Washington recruit Clarence Trent added 12 for Seattle.
“You always hate playing a team, especially like Washington, when they lose, and now you got the hype surrounded and they’re gearing up for you. And then they come out with great energy and emotion,” said Seattle coach Cameron Dollar, the one-time assistant under Romar at Washington. “And then on the flip side, we got spooked a little bit early on. I take the blame for that. You got to try to prepare your guys so they don’t get spooked in situations, and we did.”
Suggs popped for a career-high despite leaving twice in the second half with cramps in his legs. He had missed three games recently with a sprained right foot, but he returned last Saturday when the Huskies couldn’t complete their rally from a huge second-half deficit and lost 76-73 at home to Nevada.
That loss — the Huskies third non-conference loss at home this season — brought about a renewed focus heading into the matchup for city bragging rights, especially knowing how Seattle would try and create chaos from the start.
“Our biggest focus was making sure we were dialed in from the tip, and I thought our guys did a tremendous job of being ready to play and coming out in a business-like manner against a tough, physical, scrappy team,” Romar said.
The Huskies made easy work of Seattle’s full court pressure, leading to layup after layup during the first half. Instead of forcing turnovers, the Redhawks decision to press gave Washington an offensive spark that was missing. The Huskies matched the 49 points they scored in the first half of its win over Seton Hall last month.
Leading 19-14, a dunk from Shawn Kemp, Jr. — in the same arena where his father became an NBA star with the SuperSonics — started a 21-2 Washington run to take a 40-16 lead. The Redhawks had only one basket during the stretch, while the Huskies saw six different players score during the run.
Washington shot 64 percent in the half and went to the break leading 49-27.
“They do a good job pressing teams and forcing turnovers … and we did a good job breaking their press,” Suggs said. “We knew if we could get past that initial backcourt press that we could get good shots on the other end.”
Romar expected Seattle to make a charge and it came to start the second half. The Redhawks started on an 11-2 spurt with their pressure defense finally causing the Huskies problems. Rasmussen and D’Vonne Pickett Jr., scored all 11 points of Seattle’s run and cut the lead to 51-38 and excited a crowd that sat silent for most of the first half.
But Washington rolled off 11 of the next 14 points and led comfortably the rest of the second half with the Redhawks never getting the deficit down to single digits.
Seattle now has losses this season to Washington, Stanford and Virginia. The Redhawks have three more non-conference games before opening their first season in the WAC on Dec. 29 vs. Idaho.
“UW just played a good game. (They) came out and were prepared for our intensity,” Rasmussen said. “Teams are trying to plan for how we play our press, how aggressive we are and they just kind of beat us to the punch.”