Yes, these are the Washington Huskies.
For those just getting familiar with the team on Montlake, you may not recognize the squad that hadn't played at home in nearly a month.
The Huskies don't just play defense, they smother opposing offenses as if stomping out a wildfire. They swarm to the ball, challenge every shot, contest every pass and relish their opponents' frustrations.
Washington displayed its new brand of basketball and entertained an enthusiastic crowd of 8,814 at Alaska Airlines Arena with a dominant 64-54 victory over Colorado on Thursday to run its winning streak to four.
"I thought our guys came out active early, dialed in and focused," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "It set the tone for the rest of the game."
More accurately, Aziz N'Diaye set the tone. The senior center was a 7-foot human fence around the basket.
N'Diaye contested five of Colorado's first six shots, which allowed Washington to build an early 11-6 lead.
The Huskies, who led from start to finish, put a stranglehold on the Buffaloes, holding them to a season-low 36.2 percent (21 of 58) from the field and just 1 of 10 on three-point attempts. CU's 54 points were its second fewest this season.
The Huskies were even worse from the floor, converting 20 of 59 (33.9), but found ways to create shots for C.J. Wilcox, who led all scorers with 25 points. The junior guard peeled off several screens for open looks and hit 8 of 14 shots.
Scott Suggs added 13 points, but he did his best work on dribble drives for short jumpers.
Colorado (11-6, 1-4 Pac-12) received 15 points from Spencer Dinwiddie and 10 from Andre Roberson.
While Wilcox and Suggs handled the scoring, N'Diaye and 6-7 sophomore forward Desmond Simmons took care of the interior defense and rebounding. N'Diaye had 11 rebounds (five on offense) and three blocks. Simmons finished with 12 boards.
"We always knew we could play good defense," Wilcox said. "We came into the season saying that's what we need to do. It took some time to finally get it through our heads that this is the way we need to play."
It wasn't always this way.
But if you haven't noticed, Washington is undergoing a midseason metamorphosis from a team that relied on perimeter shooting and offense to a squad that's held four straight opponents to less than 40 percent shooting.
"They are so long, so athletic. They've got the big guy in the middle. You've got to score against Washington and you've got to execute against them because nothing is going to come easy," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "And we have to get better on the offensive side of the ball to beat teams like this."
For most of the night it was difficult to discern whether the Huskies were playing good defense or if the Buffaloes were that bad offensively. In the first half, CU was 7 of 24 from the field (29.2 percent) and 0 for 4 on three-pointers. Washington led 28-20 at halftime but struggled offensively early in the second half, allowing Colorado to close within five (28-23).
Suggs scored the Huskies' first basket in the half, draining a three-pointer despite being fouled with 15:09 left. He sank the ensuing free throw for a four-point play to put UW ahead 32-23.
Washington put the game away when Suggs connected with N'Diaye for an alley-oop dunk and an 11-point lead (56-45) at the 2:34 mark.
The Huskies improved to 12-5 and 4-0 in the Pac-12, matching their conference start in 2010-11. They'll look to start 5-0 in the conference for the first time since 1984 with a win Saturday at home against Utah.
And they're relishing their new winning ways
"When we're shutting people down, it's fun," senior co-captain Abdul Gaddy said. "When we're guarding people and they're frustrated and you can hear them bickering with each other and Aziz blocking shots and C.J. getting steals. Those lead to easy points."
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