Someone mentioned after the University of Washington Huskies 51-50 win over the Portland State Vikings on Sunday that the game carried a tension similar to that of a baseball game.
And to say that Huskies forward Mollie Williams' game-winning baseline jumper with 24 seconds left was a relief is probably an understatement: it might have provided multi-layered relief for the team and its fans.
Prior to that game-winning shot, Williams had been shooting 0-for-9, which made leaving her as open as she was from 15 feet as much a calculated risk as a defensive lapse. But from a Huskies perspective, that shot was the perfect shot because it went in the basket.
"Did it go in?" said Jackson. "You doggone right that's the shot we wanted. I'm trying to remember what did we run? It's all a blur. It's all a blur. So much excitement."
And Williams wasn't the only one struggling with her shooting at that point: after Portland State guard Eryn Jones hit two free throws to put the Vikings up 50-49 with 4:34 left in the second half, neither team scored for the ensuing four minutes prior to Williams' game-winner.
On the game - and perhaps season - level the shot prevented what had been a dominant start to the game for the Huskies from turning into something of a disastrous result.
Washington had jumped out to a 14-0 to start the game only to see it evaporate by halftime with the Vikings taking taking a 27-25 lead. With 7:58 left in the second half the Vikings extended that lead to 46-39 and after two missed free throws by Regina Rogers the Huskies looked to be deflated. Whatever was working early in the opening minutes of the game just seemed to disappear.
"I just remember coming into timeout saying, 'You have to tell your minds - yes, we can do this,'" said Jackson. "You're not tired. You got to tell your mind that you can get through this, that you can play the D. Next thing you know, Charmaine found her energizer battery - she found her switch - she took off and everybody fed off of that. We got [guard Kristi Kingma] a couple of looks and it was all predicated on what Regina [Rogers] was doing inside."
And as much as the game itself was an emotional roller coaster after a last-second loss to Portland State to open last season, in terms of assessing the state of the program, the game may well have lifted a mark from coach Jackson's resume: it was her first opening day victory as coach of the Huskies.
"I'll tell you what Sherri and I said to each other when we crossed paths at the scorer's table," said Jackson, referring to her post-game conversation with PSU coach Sherri Murrell. "She said, 'We have to stop playing each other - these games are too close I'm getting a heart attack every time.' I'm like seriously. You know, buzzer beater on our end here and buzzer beater at their place for them [last year]. It was a fun game. I hope the fans enjoyed it. I know we did."
Statistical MVP: Regina Rogers
Were it not for the performance of center Regina Rogers, Huskies fans might be contemplating whether they should be concerned about the season rather than enjoying a victory.
Rogers - who tied for a game-high 18 points with guard Kristi Kingma - scored 6 of the team's 14 points during the opening 14-0 run and scored 4 of the 8 points during the run that put them up by 1 prior to Jones' free throws. The Vikings hardly had an answer for her when she got the ball, despite playing with an injured hamstring - Rogers shot 9-for-14 from the to go along with 2 blocks in 24 minutes.
"I think I was able to take advantage of maybe my size and...just having feedback from my coaches and everything else," said Rogers.
However, the key phrase there is when she got the ball - on multiple occasions, Rogers flashed wide-open on the block and didn't get the ball visibly calling and clapping for it. Jackson commented after the game that it was the result of her teammates seeing looming double teams that Rogers wasn't always aware of.
"They were doubling us all night," said Jackson when asked about Rogers' touches. "Even before she touched the ball they were doubling her. So the guards, if they saw that, she might not have seen it. And everybody might have seen that Regina is just numbers. But as soon as she gets it, we'd rather expose that person that's coming rather than just throwing it in knowing she's just going to kick it out anyway."
But thankfully, the Huskies were able to find scoring in other places in the face of double teams.
Key player: Kristi Kingma
Not only did Kingma tie Rogers with a game-high 18 points, she also hit big shots when the team needed them. In addition to getting the game going with two threes to put the team up 6-0 during their early run, Kingma hit two threes within 40 seconds to bring the Huskies within one point with just under 7 minutes left in the game before Rogers' consecutive baskets.
But beyond her scoring, Kingma was instrumental in running the Huskies' offense as the point guard filling in for injured senior Sarah Morton.
"As a point guard, I kinda feel like even when Morty's on the court I kinda am a point guard because even when Morty's on the court I'm kinda doing the directing and telling people where to go," said Kingma. "It just happened that I got some good looks in the second half. And it helped that Regina got hot - then they're doubling on her. Then I got more open."
Kingma's stats don't necessarily bear out an outstanding point guard performance, but the poise and decision making she brought to the floor were instrumental to getting the team going early on in the game. Kingma is neither flashy nor ball dominant with the ball - she gets the ball upcourt to initiate the offense and actually ended up in position as a spot up shooter with or without backup point guard Mercedes Wetmore in the game.
Key statistic: effective field goal percentage
With Rogers operating in the paint and Kingma on the perimeter, Washington established their biggest statistical advantage in their shooting percentage: they held Portland State under 30% field goal shooting for the game which made their 35.7% field goal shooting look good.
Yet what that speaks to is an improved defensive intensity that the team preached about for most of last season - when they shut Portland State down and went on their runs, their defense was at its best. When PSU went on runs, Washington gave up easy second chance points (9-3 PSU in the second half) after offensive rebounds. Perhaps worst of all is that PSU's leading rebounder was Jones.
Vikings statistical MVP: Eryn Jones
Jones - a Lynnwood, Washington native - not only finished the game with a team-high 14 points, but also a team-high 4 offensive rebounds, an outstanding performance for 5'8" freshman even considering that PSU's 19 three point shots led to a number of long rebounds that UW simply couldn't corral. And in making 2 threes and 2 free throws, Jones actually had the second-highest true shooting percentage on the team despite only shooting 5-for-15 from the field.
Where does that leave UW?
Put simply, the game had its share of drama, but it was certainly not the best performance from either team and not all of that can be attributed to defensive intensity alone.
For PSU, they're clearly adjusting to life after point guard and team leader Claire Faucher who helped lead them to the tournament last season. Part of that for UW was certainly that they're missing Morton, Wetmore is still a freshman, and Rogers is injured - limit the point guard and center of any team and there's bound to be tough times for the unit as a whole.
That said, there are certainly things they have to work on - they allowed PSU to get 38% of the available offensive rebounds, albeit a number of long rebounds. They turned the ball over on over 31% of their possessions in the first half, which was largely responsible for the shift in momentum. And they couldn't seem to make a free throw: as a team they shot 30.4% for the game and Kingma and Rogers combined to shoot just 2-for-14.
So whether you see this as a tough win or a near loss is as much a matter of perspective as anything else.
But the bottom line is that they figured out a way to win, which perhaps we can say they might have struggled to do in the past - despite relinquishing an early lead, their top scorers shooting poorly from the free throw line, and going through a long drought down the stretch they found a way to win, which brings us back to Williams.
Williams, who couldn't buy a basket prior to her game-winning shot, might have best embodied the type of mindset and resilience that the Huskies will need to be successful this year as a team. Just as Williams turned passing, rebounding, and shot blocking and defense when she couldn't find her shot, the team will have to continue finding ways to win when things just aren't going their way.
That's what championship basketball is about and Williams had words that matched her actions.
"We always talk about in practice or in games that you have to have a short memory," said Williams. "And you have to have a short memory in basketball because things don't always go your way. And fortunately in basketball there's always other stuff you can do to pick up your slack for anything else that you're messing up on."