Noah Dickerson and Jaylen Nowell came through at the end, and Washington escaped with a hard-fought 67-63 victory.
Mike Hopkins says he’ll gladly “take an ugly win over a good-looking loss,” but he knows the Huskies’ performance Sunday won’t be good enough in a few days when they square off against the No. 1-ranked team in the country.
Following a hard-fought 67-63 win over UC Santa Barbara, the Washington men’s basketball team will need to make vast improvements before making the short trip to Spokane to face their nemesis Gonzaga on Wednesday.
“Am I happy how we played? No,” Hopkins said. “Am I happy that we won? Yes. And now we’ve got an unbelievable opportunity.”
Over the next 72 hours, Hopkins and the Huskies will need to correct an inconsistent offense that sizzled in their previous outing and went dormant again during long droughts Sunday.
Admittedly, Hopkins has to restore the confidence in several role players mired in seasonlong scoring slumps.
Against UCSB, Noah Dickerson (22 points), Jaylen Nowell (17) and Matisse Thybulle (13) combined for 52 points while five other UW players had 15 and converted just 4 of 21 field goals.
“I’ve got to do a little better job in getting them confident and getting our whole team confident,” Hopkins said. “I feel like Noah is back. I feel like Jaylen makes plays at the end when he has to. I think Matisse is playing at a high level.
“I think (Dominic Green), obviously we know what he did in the last game. … (Nahziah Carter) has been coming in giving us decent minutes. But I got to do a better job bottom line.”
Hopkins said he has to instill a belief that Washington can finally play its best game of the season against a hated opponent that’s had their number and has won 11 of the last 12 games in the cross-state rivalry.
“I don’t think you’ve seen our A-game,” Hopkins said. “We need to play better. I wasn’t happy tonight. I’m happy that we won. There are a lot of things that we need to clean up if we want to be an elite team.”
Elite teams don’t race out to a 10-0 start before falling apart offensively in the first half.
In their previous outing — an 83-59 blowout over Eastern Washington on Tuesday — Washington sank a season-high 12 three-pointers on 28 attempts.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, they reverted to the team that can’t shoot straight Sunday. Every shot they attempted behind the arc in the first half either sailed long, fell short and rolled out of the rim.
Despite whiffing on all nine three-pointers before the break and making just one shot outside the paint, Washington led 26-21 at halftime.
“It’s tough to say you’re not fazed because every basketball player wants to make shots, and when you’re not seeing them go in, it hurts,” Thybulle said. “But knowing that we can go through those droughts and our defense can keep us in games gives us confidence. We went through a drought like that, but we were able to keep them from scoring so the game didn’t get out of hand.”
Washington led for nearly 36 minutes and fell behind twice in the second half.
Trailing 48-46, the Huskies went on a 9-0 spurt that included a pair of three-pointers from Thybulle to go ahead 55-48.
Neither team led by more than seven points the rest of the way, and the outcome was in doubt when UC Santa Barbara guard Jay Nagle’s free throw tied the score at 60-60 with 1:35 left.
Unlike its last-second defeat against Minnesota two weeks ago at the Vancouver Showcase, Washington made the requisite plays in the final minutes.
The Huskies held the Gauchos to three points over their final four possessions, while finding ways to score on each of their last four trips.
Nowell sank a midrange baseline jumper and converted two free throws to put UW up 64-60.
Gauchos guard Ar’Mond Davis, who had 20 points, answered with a jumper to cut the Huskies lead to two points.
Both teams traded a free throw before Nowell capped the scoring with a pair of free throws with 7.9 seconds left.
“The kids made enough plays down the stretch and showed a lot of grit and a lot of character and a lot of fight to come out with the win,” Hopkins said. “I’m proud of them that way.
“At the end of the day it’s about winning. It’s not going to be pretty some of the times, but you got to find a way to win and we made just enough plays to win tonight.”