Kemp’s rise a boon for Huskies down low

Early in Washington’s game against Arizona State last Saturday, Senegalese center Aziz N’Diaye took a nasty shot to the eye. The injury required stitches, forcing N’Diaye to leave the game.

With Sun Devil big man Jordan Bachynski playing well, it seemed that, once again, the UW would be forced to concede the paint.

But Shawn Kemp Jr. came into the game and hit a jump shot. Then he threw down a dunk. He looked sturdy on the block, and his footwork and post moves were exemplary.

Nearly two months after returning from a torn patellar tendon, Kemp is finally comfortable.

“When I got hurt it kind of set me back a little bit,” he said. “But this game is the type of game where I finally get to kind of break out and do what I do in practice.”

When N’Diaye came back he didn’t miss a beat, tossing in a pair of pretty hook shots.

Kemp finished with 18 points and 6 rebounds. N’Diaye added 16 and 10. It was the kind of multi-faceted post dominance the Huskies haven’t seen since Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman patrolled the paint five years ago.

Kemp and N’Diaye shot a combined 16-of-22 from the field. The Huskies put up 50 points in the paint and 19 second-chance points.

“Playing with Aziz is really good,” Kemp said. “It’s really bad for the other team, because they can’t get to the paint because we have him and me in the post.”

The Huskies are finally developing a post presence, and with a more complete team comes more complete games. The Huskies aren’t playing perfectly, but they’ve finally turned into an aggressor.

With the exception of losses to Oregon State and Utah, the Huskies have looked great since conference play began. The close losses at No. 16 Oregon and at home against No. 8 Arizona were nothing to be ashamed of.

The Huskies got more than just a much-needed win against Arizona State — they found a post player for the future. Time and time again Kemp backed his man down and finished with a jump hook; on one play, he even swished a 17-foot jumper.

If Kemp can be a threat to score in the paint, it will open things up for the guards — just as it did against Arizona State for Andrew Andrews, who finished with 20 points by frequently slashing through the lane and finishing over post-players who left Kemp too late because they knew he was a threat.

For much of the game, it seemed like Kemp would be the story. But the Huskies’ 7-foot senior showed there are a few tricks that come with time and experience. After Arizona State tied the game at 89 with 35 seconds left, N’Diaye made the play of the game when he got an offensive rebound, was fouled on his put-back, and drilled a free throw to complete the three-point play.

He also made the crucial block on a Jahii Carson shot attempt with three seconds left to secure the win.

“People will walk away talking about [Kemp], but the big man in the middle was huge tonight in more ways than one,” head coach Lorenzo Romar said. “The last play, the block, the free throws — he was 7-of-8. He just did a tremendous job. I’m so glad we have him.”

He was playing like a man possessed, secure in the knowledge that next time he goes down, the Huskies will have a capable big man to take his place.

Reach columnist Jacob Thorpe at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @Jacob_B_Thorpe

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