ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—Jamaal Williams felt he didn’t fit in with a new coach and new system at New Mexico, so he transferred to Washington.
The agile 6-foot-6 forward has proven a fine fit for the Huskies and scored 22 points to lead No. 13 Washington to an 81-71 victory over the Lobos on Saturday.
“I was very excited to get a chance to play against them. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity since it is my senior season,” Williams said after his 10-of-16 shooting performance helped the Huskies (8-0) to their best start in 36 years.
Williams left New Mexico after two years, unhappy that coach Fran Fraschilla was let go and unhappy with his role in new coach Ritchie McKay’s system.
“I feel like I was closing the chapter on the whole New Mexico thing,” Williams said after his big day against the Lobos. “The motivation was definitely there, with a guy I used to play for, former teammates.
“How can you not get up for this game?”
Washington led by as many as 20 points in the first half and never trailed in the game. New Mexico (4-3) closed within one point on Mark Walters’ 3-pointer midway through the second half before the Huskies pulled away to win the opening contest of the 12th annual John R. Wooden Classic.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar sounded relieved.
“Prior to the final horn going off, we made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “They took a lot of our strengths away and did a good job. We tried to force it a bit too much and allowed them back in the game.”
Brandon Roy added 18 points, Bobby Jones had 11 points and seven rebounds, and Justin Dentmon had 11 points for the Huskies.
Walters topped the Lobos with 21 points, and Tony Danridge had 15. Kyle Prochaska added 10 points and nine rebounds.
New Mexico rallied from a 43-26 halftime deficit to pull within 58-57 with 11:02 remaining. Washington then regained control over the next 2 minutes, as Williams made a three-point play and reserve Hans Gasser hit three consecutive baskets and the Huskies rebuilt the lead to 67-59.
Gasser missed his only other two shots in the game.
“We dug ourselves too big of a hole in the first 12 minutes of the game,” said McKay, whose Lobos scored only two points in the first 10 minutes and trailed 21-5 with 8 minutes left in the first half.
“We uncharacteristically turned it over way too many times. When you dig a hole against a team like this, even though you may catch up, you’re going to expend so much energy that it’s going to be hard to finish down the stretch.”
The Lobos had 14 turnovers in the first half and finished with 22, to the Huskies’ 17.
Washington last began 8-0 in the 1969-70 season. The Huskies’ longest streak to start a season was 18 in the 1928-29 campaign.
Roy had 11 first-half points to help Washington to its 17-point halftime lead. Danridge scored all but two of his points in the first half.