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Watanabe was in rhythm from long range vs. La Salle, hitting 5 of 7 three-pointers
Watanabe was in rhythm from long range vs. La Salle, hitting 5 of 7 three-pointers
Feb. 8, 2018

By Eric Detweiler, GW Athletics Communications

Maurice Joseph took a glance at the box score in his hand and cracked a grin.

Of course, the GW head coach was pleased with Yuta Watanabe's career-high 29 points in Wednesday's 80-69 win over La Salle, but he was just as excited about the career-high 20 shots it took his senior standout to get there.

Time and again this season, Joseph has urged Watanabe to be GW's "alpha dog," the go-to guy who's ready, willing and able to lead the offense. He certainly looked the part against the Explorers, showcasing an array of tough drives, transition buckets and smooth jumpers in helping the Colonials snap a four-game losing streak. Throw in his eight rebounds and his usual top-notch defense, and he had a night to remember.

That Watanabe stepped up to produce such a shining statline on a night the Colonials sorely needed it, with second-leading scorer Jair Bolden sidelined by a concussion, only added to Joseph's satisfaction.

"We knew that we'd need an extra push, and Yuta did what All-Conference seniors are supposed to do," Joseph said. "He came out and was aggressive. Shot the ball a lot. Shot the ball well. I'm really happy for him."

Watanabe said he found motivation in last Saturday's rough Homecoming loss to Davidson. He scored 20 points in that one, but the personal success provided little consolation in a dismal team performance.

This time, Watanabe set the offensive tone, and the rest of the Colonials followed his lead. He finished 11-of-20 from the floor, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, in a victory that equaled their top scoring output in A-10 play.

"In the warm-up, I knew I was going to shoot well today," Watanabe said. "My shot was feeling good. After the first one, I knew I was hot."

Watanabe missed his first two shots before falling into the type of rhythm shooters dream about.

His first basket -- an acrobatic transition tip-in -- began a run in which he scored 26 points over 21 game minutes. He connected on 10 of 13 attempts in that stretch, with four 3-pointers, to help the Colonials pull away from the Explorers.

Watanabe admitted taking a peek at the Charles E. Smith Center video board in the second half. He knew his career high was in reach and got there splashing a final 3-pointer that made it 76-53 with 3:53 remaining. He exited to a rousing ovation from the home crowd not long after that.

It was the most points by a Colonial since Tyler Cavanaugh scored 30 last March against Dayton.

"It means a lot to me," Watanabe said afterward. "I feel like I did my job and helped the team a lot today. I'm really happy right now."

"He deserves it," added Terry Nolan Jr., who piled up nine points and 11 rebounds himself.

For Joseph, there was plenty to like in the performance.

GW's freshman guards Nolan, Maceo Jack and Justin Mazzulla proved ready to fill Bolden's minutes and showed continued growth, while Arnaldo Toro took advantage of his first start in weeks with 15 points and seven rebounds. The Colonials used a high-intensity zone to stifle two of the Atlantic 10's top scoring guards.

Still, Watanabe's dynamic scoring effort stood out, providing a blueprint for getting the offensive attack to full stride.

When he's looking for his shot, good things usually follow. The coach wouldn't mind the team leader in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes taking more of the spotlight.

"Today was the first time I've seen him that aggressive," Joseph said. "I'm really happy about his assertiveness. He needs to continue that trend because when he's that our team is better."

Watanabe is eager to duplicate the winning formula.

Through a bumpy few weeks, he's stayed positive, worked hard and provided a good example daily for his younger teammates to follow. He hopes the Colonials can look back on Wednesday's victory as an important step in their development.

"Now, guys know that if we play like this we're going to win some more games," Watanabe said. "We've just got to keep working hard, keep improving ourselves and just focus on the next game."

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