SEATTLE (AP) — Washington coach Mike Hopkins described it as being in the "sandpit." The Huskies were at home, ranked to start the season for the first time in seven years, facing expectations and the anticipation of what they actually looked like.
And they immediately proceeded to play an ugly, inconsistent first half and face a nine-point deficit.
"Down nine at home, pressure is on, everyone wants to see the team," Hopkins said. "And these guys showed a lot of poise, a lot of resiliency. They stayed together."
Noah Dickerson scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, Jaylen Nowell added 17, and No. 25 Washington rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to beat Western Kentucky 73-55 on Tuesday night.
Ranked in the preseason for the first time since 2011, the Huskies (1-0) slogged through an ugly first half of foul trouble and poor shooting, and leaned heavily on Dickerson to put away the Hilltoppers in the second half.
Limited to just six minutes in the first half after picking up three fouls, Dickerson put together his own eight-point scoring spurt midway through the second half as the Huskies finally started to pull away. Dickerson made 6 of 8 shots and grabbed six rebounds.
It was the first extended action for Dickerson after sitting out Washington's first exhibition game and playing limited minutes in the second.
"I hadn't played in a while so it's fun to get back into things," Dickerson said. "The team was looking for me and I was getting back to doing what I was doing last year."
He also got the best of a matchup with highly-touted Western Kentucky freshman Charles Bassey in his college debut. The 6-foot-11 forward also struggled with early foul problems and finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out in the final moments.
Jared Savage and Taveion Hollingsworth combined for 21 first-half points for the Hilltoppers, but were silent in the second half combining for just eight points. Savage led Western Kentucky (0-1) with 15 points and Hollingsworth had 14.
The Hilltoppers shot just 29 percent in the second half and finished with 16 turnovers.
"It's not the points you give up as much as the energy you pump back into this arena," Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury said. "We knew this place is a hornet's nest and we just let them come back into the game."
Washington started the second half on a 13-0 run, erasing the damage of Western Kentucky's 17-0 run to close the first half. David Crisp's 3-pointer gave Washington a 37-36 lead and the Huskies led 40-36 before Bassey's dunk finally got the Hilltoppers on the board.
But it was a key six-point possession midway through the half that finally gave Washington a cushion. Nowell scored and a flagrant foul was called on Matt Horton against Dickerson as the pair headed down court. Dickerson hit the free throws for the foul and on the ensuing possession scored underneath to give the Huskies a 56-48 lead. Dickerson later added a dunk off a loose ball and Washington's lead was 58-50 with 7:42 remaining. After another basket by Dickerson, Dominic Green's 3 pushed Washington's lead to 13.
Bassey was the No. 8 recruit in country last year and arguably the highest-rated recruit ever to play for the Hilltoppers. His collegiate debut brought out 18 NBA scouts and he showed flashes of his promise at the next level in the second half.
Bassey made 5 of 9 shots and had a pair of blocks.
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers played without Auburn graduate transfer Desean Murray, who was suspended last week and did not make the trip west. Western Kentucky also had disciplinary issues with Hollingsworth and Josh Anderson, both suspended for one of the Hilltoppers' two exhibition games. Anderson played 13 minutes and didn't score before fouling out.
Washington: The Huskies were 2 of 18 on 3-pointers in the first half and are not a good enough shooting team from the perimeter to be that reliant on shots from behind the arc. The Huskies attempted only 7 3s in the second half, hitting three.
Matisse Thybulle finished with just nine points but filled the stat sheet in every other way. Washington's senior guard had six rebounds, six blocked shots and made the play of the night late in the second half blocking a shot by Savage, saving it from going out of bounds and finishing the play with a dunk.
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers return home to face Tennessee-Martin on Saturday.
Washington: The Huskies face a major road challenge at No. 11 Auburn on Friday.