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Tipoff at the first U.S. regular season basketball game to be played in China. (GeekWire Photos, Taylor Soper)

SHANGHAI, China — An energetic buzz grew as fans poured inside the arena. Lines from concession stands crowded the concourse. Couples smooched on the Kiss Cam. Dancers performed during timeout breaks. 

And when the buzzer sounded, one team was victorious, arms raised in triumph, while the other walked away in disappointment. 

Almost everything about the University of Washington’s 77-71 win over Texas would be considered normal by college basketball standards — two teams played for 40 minutes, with one winning, and the other losing. 

But this particular bout at the Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai was historic, it being the first time two U.S teams — NCAA or NBA — played a regular season game in China.

UW senior guard Andrew Andrews drives to the hoop during the UW's 77-71 win over Texas.
UW senior guard Andrew Andrews drives to the hoop during the UW’s 77-71 win over Texas.

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In front of a crowd of 7,188 made up of alumni from the UW and Texas, as well as thousands of Chinese basketball fans getting their first taste of a meaningful U.S. hoops game in person, the Huskies scrapped their way to a six-point victory and opened the 2015-16 campaign with a win.

“It was a really fun atmosphere to play in,” UW head coach Lorenzo Romar said afterward. “We were very fortunate to be involved in a situation like this, being apart of history.”

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Outside the Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai.

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Fans get through security on their way inside the Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai for the first U.S. regular season basketball game in China.

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From left: UW Vice Provost for Innovation Vikram Jandhyala, UW computer science professor and entrepreneur Shwetak Patel, and UW engineering PhD student Ben Waters.

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The game itself, part of a Pac-12 initiative to expand its reach globally, mimicked what you’d expect at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle or The Drum in Austin, but with a few Chinese twists. 

For example, instead of pizza and pretzels, fans had a slightly different menu to order from. 

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Security guards also looked a bit different.

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But aside from a few minor differences, it very much felt like a normal college hoops game.

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UW freshman guard Dejounte Murray.

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UW head coach Lorenzo Romar addresses his team during a timeout.
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UW President Ana Mari Cauce gets her dance on with Harry the Husky.

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Prior to Saturday’s game, which ESPN aired in a primetime Friday evening slot, both teams participated in a number of cultural activities throughout the week in China. Student-athletes had a chance to visit the headquarters of Chinese tech giant Alibaba, which was the presenting sponsor of the game.

UW men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar teaches Alibaba founder Jack Ma how to properly do the "W" symbol on Tuesday at Alibaba's campus. Texas head coach Shaka Smart is on the left.
UW men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar teaches Alibaba founder Jack Ma how to properly do the “W” symbol on Tuesday at Alibaba’s campus. Texas head coach Shaka Smart is on the left.
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UW senior guard Andrew Andrews gives Alibaba Vice Chairman his own UW jersey at Alibaba’s headquarters on Tuesday.
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UW President Ana Mari Cauce chats with Alibaba founder Jack Ma with the UW hoops team in tow.

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Alibaba’s branding was certainly all over the place inside the Mercedes Benz Arena on Saturday.

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There were also some big names in the crowd on Saturday, as Alibaba executives joined other leaders like Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, UW president Ana Mari Cauce, and former NBA all-star Yao Ming, who received big cheers every time he was shown on the big screen.

Yao Ming. Tall.
Yao Ming. Tall.
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Two basketball legends: China’s most accomplished player, Yao Ming (right), poses with former college and NBA star center Bill Walton, who also called the game on ESPN.
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Former Washington governor Christine Gregoire (sixth from left) sits next to UW President Ana Mari Cauce courtside at the historic Pac-12 hoops game in China.
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Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott (second from left) sits next to Alibaba Vice Chairman Joe Tsai (third from left) and Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming.

You could tell this was a game that counted — the NBA and Pac-12 have played games in China before, but only for relatively meaningless exhibition match-ups — based on the energy inside the arena, which brewed before tip-off and continued throughout both halves. Fans ooh-ed and aah-ed for big plays, as most people weren’t associated with either team but simply cheered and applauded good basketball. 

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In between timeouts and game breaks, there were your typical fan competitions and Kiss Cams. Just like in the U.S., arena staff in Shanghai also threw out mini basketballs and hats to the crowd.

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Fans prepare for hats and mini basketballs to be thrown into the crowd.
Fans prepare for hats and mini basketballs to be thrown into the crowd.

As for the actual basketball, both teams came out sloppy in the first half, which was unsurprising given that this was the first regular season game. Though the UW and Texas shot a combined 31 percent from the field and had 31 turnovers, the pace was often frenetic and produced some exciting dunks, blocks, and fast breaks. 

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UW freshman guard David Crisp scores a lay-up.
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UW freshman forward Matisse Thybulle pulls up for a shot.
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Freshman guard David Crisp and junior forward Malik Dime guard Texas senior guard Javan Felix.
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UW senior guard Andrew Andrews puts up a shot over the outstretched hand of Texas senior center Prince Ibeh.
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UW senior guard Andrew Andrews (left) and freshman forward Devenir Duruisseau defend Texas junior guard Isaiah Taylor.

Many expected Texas to come away from China with a victory, but the inexperienced Huskies — seven freshman, five sophomores, two juniors, and one senior — were gritty throughout the game and particularly toward the end. 

“I thought our guys did a tremendous job of hanging in there and scrapping,” Romar said. “They played really tough basketball throughout, regardless of what score was.”

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UW head coach Lorenzo Romar.

After a 34-34 tie at halftime, the UW jumped out to a nine-point lead midway through the second half. But Texas stormed back and went up 65-64 with just under four minutes left.

The game’s biggest shot came shortly thereafter, with UW senior guard Andrew Andrews draining a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired, putting the Huskies up 71-67 with 3:11 remaining.

“When a big shot is needed, he has the ability to knock it down,” Romar said of his lone senior. “He has had a flair for the dramatic for a long, long time.”

Senior guard Andrew Andrews goes up for a 3-pointer.
Senior guard Andrew Andrews goes up for a 3-pointer.

Andrews, who struggled from the field on 4-of-15 shooting but led the UW with a team-high 23 points, was making his second basketball-related trip to China. The Portland, Ore.-native played with a Pac-12 All-Star team in the country last year, but this was his first time — as it was for all the players — competing in a regular season game here.

“It feels really good, coming out for the first game of the season in China, making history with the first one here, and getting our first win under our belt to start the season,” Andrews said.

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The UW bench and fans raise their arms as the buzzer sounded after the UW’s 77-71 win over Texas.
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UW freshman guard David Crisp throws up a “W” after throws after his team’s 77-71 win over Texas.
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UW President Ana Mari Cauce congratulates the players after the Huskies beat Texas on Saturday in Shanghai.
UW freshman guard Marquese Chriss throws autographed basketballs into the crowd after his team's 77-71 win over Texas.
UW freshman guard Marquese Chriss throws autographed basketballs into the crowd after his team’s 77-71 win over Texas.
Players and coaches from the UW and Texas shake hands after the UW's 77-71 win.
Players and coaches from the UW and Texas shake hands after the UW’s 77-71 win.
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UW head coach Lorenzo Romar thanks the Husky faithful after his team’s 77-71 win over Texas in Shanghai on Saturday.

Afterward, freshman forward Marquese Chriss was asked if it felt any different playing a game in Shanghai versus Seattle.

“It feels the same,” said Chriss, who finished with 14 points. “We just love to play basketball. A gym is a gym.”

But basketball aside, this was definitely a different kind of road trip and one to certainly remember for these young Huskies, a talented group of players that are not only starting to gel on the court, but off of it, as well.

“We are all brothers, we all bond together,” Chriss said. “We spend time together all the time. You don’t ever really see us walking alone. When we walk, we walk in a pack.”

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UW freshman guard Marquese Chriss (far left) with UW senior guard Andrew Andrews and UW head coach Lorenzo Romar at the post-game press conference in Shanghai.

As the post-game press conference came to a close, one Chinese reporter asked the players if they learned any Chinese. They rattled off a few general terms, like “hello,” and “basketball.” But Chriss added one phrase that perhaps symbolizes what this UW team is about.

“Ní, wǒ, wǒmen,” Chriss said. “You, me, we — it’s kind of like a saying our team has.”

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