Serving as interim coach, Will Conroy made sure to hug or slap hands with every University of Washington basketball player before the opening tip. Not long into the game at Oregon State, he removed his sports coat.
Otherwise Conroy, subbing for COVID-quarantined Mike Hopkins, just stayed out of everyone’s way and let the Huskies do their thing, which was beat the Beavers 82-72 on Thursday night at Gill Coliseum.
A seven-year assistant for Lorenzo Romar and now Hopkins, and once a record-setting point guard, Conroy took on a new role in the Willamette Valley. He looked like a natural at it. He was successful in holding everything together as his head coach presumably never left a nearby Corvallis hotel.
The Huskies (9-7 overall, 4-2 Pac-12) looked loose and relaxed as they played solid and turned in their third consecutive victory. They smartly moved the ball around the perimeter without any coaxing. They emphatically dunked several times, with Emmitt Matthews Jr. twice windmilling a ball one-handed through the hoop. Riley Sorn, Langston Wilson, Nate Roberts and Daejon Davis each threw one down, as well.
Conroy, who was 69-53 as a UW player in 2002-05, is now 1-0 as a Husky head coach.
“We won it for Coach Conroy,” said senior guard Terrell Brown, learning along with his teammates five hours before tipoff that Hopkins was unavailable. “There was no other way we were going to do it except get a win.”
While Hopkins tends to nervously roam the sideline much of the time, Conroy remained seated comfortably between fellow assistants Quincy Pondexter and Wyking Jones.
He exuded calm, never changing his body language much or the tone of his voice. He kept the same starting lineup and substitution patterns in place, other than sending the 7-foot-5 Sorn in as the first guy off the bench.
In a largely empty arena, Conroy watched a competitive, fairly well-played game. Turnovers were minimal. Shooting percentages were acceptable. The defense was effective.
The Huskies played like Will once did for the UW.
Brown, the Pac-12’s leading scorer led them with 27 points, six over his average, while shooting 11 for 18 from the floor. He was supported by Matthews’ 16 points, PJ Fuller’s 11 and Jamal Bey with 10.
The teams were never more than five points apart over the first 20 minutes, with the Beavers (3-14, 1-6) moving ahead 34-29 before the half ended with them ahead just 38-36.
After the break, it was all Huskies. They built their own five-point lead for the first time at 48-43 once Davis raced in for a fast-break layin off a pinpoint pass from Brown.
The UW gradually began to pull away after that, going up by 11 at 63-52 when Bey drained a 3-pointer with just under 9 minutes left to play. Conroy finally looked a little spent and wiped his sweaty forehead with a towel once the final horn sounded.
“We knew it comes down to the players on the court,” Brown said. “None of the coaches had to be here. We just knew we had to win it without Coach Hopkins.”
This coaching arrangement worked out so well, with Conroy minding the store, the Huskies may have to do it again on Sunday night, when they move down the road and play Oregon.
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