By Phil Collin
Anaheim, Calif., Nov. 24, 2022 – It was slipping away for Washington.
After frustrating Saint Mary’s all evening in the championship game of the Paycom Wooden Legacy, the Huskies were still trailing by three points in the last three minutes when Keion Brooks Jr. drove into the lane.
Suddenly, he was horizontal and threw the ball toward the basket and in it went. Washington, which experienced its share of frustration at the Anaheim Arena, was back in business, down by only one in the final three minutes.
The play helped set up the Huskies’ 68-64 overtime victory Thursday night, giving them the tournament title and ending the Gaels’ six-game win streak to start the season.
Brooks finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and two steals and Washington’s 2-3 zone prevailed time and again.
“God was with me on that one,” Brooks said. “I just knew that we were in the bonus and I was trying to be aggressive going to the rim. I got to the middle of the lane and kind of slipped and I’m like ‘I’ve got to get it up toward the rim and give Franck (Kepnang) a chance to rebound and God laid it in for me.”
Brooks, named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, was one of four Washington players in double figures. Guard PJ Fuller added 12 points, guard Koren Johnson came off the bench for 11 points and Kepnang had 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
The Huskies survived despite committing 23 turnovers with only seven assists. Not exactly what Washington Coach Mike Hopkins had in mind during his team’s preparation.
“It wasn’t pretty but that’s the thing that makes this so special,” Hopkins said. “It’s the potential of what our team can be. We’re just scratching the surface of where we are right now and the team that we can become. We grew this weekend.”
Saint Mary’s seemed a bit exasperated from the opening tip. By the time Washington took a 28-22 lead into the halftime locker room, three of the Gaels’ starters had been held scoreless.
Saint Mary’s shot 37.5 percent from the field, turned it over 16 times and made only 6 of 29 3-point attempts trying to shoot over the zone.
“We didn’t have one guy shoot over 33 percent (from the perimeter),” Saint Mary’s Coach Randy Bennett said. “Against any zone, you need shooters especially against Washington because they’re big around the rim.”
Brooks wasn’t the only one with a circus shot. The Huskies trailed, 58-55, when Fuller hit a spinning bank shot, was fouled, and made the free throw with 52 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Saint Mary’s took a 62-61 lead when Washington center Braxton Meah was fouled and stepped to the line for a one-and-one. He missed the shot, but the Gaels were called for a lane violation. Meah calmly made both of his free throws, then Brooks added a jumper for a 65-62 lead.
With 18 seconds left, Saint Mary’s guard tried to tie it with a 3-pointer, but the shot went in and out. Fuller made two free throws and the Huskies closed it out.
“Every game is about growing and learning about ourselves,” Hopkins said. “We showed we can make mistakes and still grow and get better. As qwe grow as a team, we’re going to grow tougher together. Our team showed a lot of toughness this weekend.”
Center Mitchell Saxen had 19 points and eight rebounds for Saint Mary’s (6-1). Forward Kyle Bowen had 12 points and eight rebounds and Mahaney and Alex Ducas scored 11 apiece.