If Matthew Bryan-Amaning starts scoring in double figures on a consistent basis, maybe the graduation of Jon Brockman won't be that tough for the Huskies (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 14 AP) to absorb.
Bryan-Amaning dominated inside matching his career-high 23 points, Pondexter also matched his career best with 25 points including an off-the-backboard pass to himself, and Washington ran away from Belmont for a 96-78 win on Saturday night.
Inconsistent for much of his freshman and sophomore seasons, the Huskies can only hope that this performance is a sign of growth from Bryan-Amaning. He did it all against the Bruins: dunks, drop-step jumpers, up-and-under moves, and even five blocked shots.
"He's been working his tail off in the weight room, the gym to get better to help fill Jon Brockman's shoes and not have it be one of those things where people look at it as being a weakness of our team," Pondexter said. "He's a tremendous talent. "
Bryan-Amaning made 11 of 14 shots and added seven rebounds. His previous career high was 23 points against Portland State last season, the only other game in his career he's reached 20 points.
Thomas also scored 23 for the Huskies (2-0) in their second game of the round-robin Athletes In Action Classic.
As a sophomore, Bryan-Amaning only reached double figures seven times and just three times as a freshman.
But he dunked for Washington's first points, scored six of the Huskies first 12 and had eight by halftime. Then Bryan-Amaning carried Washington to start the second half. He scored eight of Washington's first 10 points helping a 49-39 halftime advantage quickly morph into a 20-point lead. With 14 minutes left, Bryan-Amaning already had 20 points.
About the only thing Bryan-Amaning did wrong was owning one of Washington's four missed free throws (25 of 29).
"Obviously it's there to an extent," Bryan-Amaning said about picking up for Brockman. "Just being the oldest post and being in the system the longest I take it to heart a little bit."
As Bryan-Amaning continued to control the interior, the Huskies used an 18-6 spurt early in the second half to take control, a stretch that included Pondexter improvising his way to another highlight moment in his Washington career.
After Scott Suggs intercepted a crosscourt Belmont pass, he quickly threw ahead to Pondexter breaking early. As Pondexter drove Belmont's Kerron Johnson flashed in front of him near the free throw line, causing Pondexter to leave his feet early. With no teammates open, Pondexter threw a pass to himself, banking it off the backboard then gently laying in the carom.
"I do that more times than people think. It takes a lot of practice to get that down. I do it a lot of times at open gym, I've done it a couple of times in practice. I was kind of used to it," said Pondexter, who admitted it was his first time doing it in college.
"I didn't know if coach (Lorenzo) Romar was going to yank me out. I had to make sure it went in."
It didn't count as an assist, but the Huskies' lone senior again did a little bit of everything. He hit 7 of 12 shots, all 11 of his free throws and grabbed 11 rebounds. The 5-foot-8 Thomas grabbed seven rebounds to go with his four 3-pointers as Washington held a 48-24 advantage on the boards.
Scott Sanders led Belmont with 18 points, Ian Clark added 14 and the Bruins (1-1) chipped away at an early 10-point deficit, pulling even at 34-all on a jumper by Sanders with 5:08 left in the first half.
"We felt like we had earned where we were and played even with them, but they're the best team in a major conference and we're picked fifth in the Atlantic Sun," Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. "But I think our team got better by playing this game."
Then Washington took back control just before halftime. A jumper by Pondexter was followed by a three-point play by Tyreese Breshers, who left the game earlier after injuring his right hand. Abdul Gaddy floated a 10-foot runner and Thomas capped a swift 11-point spurt with a four-point play, swishing a 3 as Kerron Johnson clipped Thomas' foot as he flew past on the shot release.