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Huskies use hot hand from deep to beat UCLA, complete perfect first half of Pac-12 play

The Huskies connected on 11 of 24 three-point attempts and forced 23 UCLA turnovers — but committed 17 themselves — en route to wrapping up a perfect first half of Pac-12 play, 9-0 and 18-4 overall.

Halfway home and the Huskies are still perfect in the Pac-12.

Washington finished the first half of the conference race with a dominant 69-55 victory over UCLA on Saturday afternoon in front of a soldout crowd of 10,000 at Alaska Airlines Arena.

The Huskies’ 11th straight win gave them a commanding three-game lead in the Pac-12 with nine regular-season games left.

And yet Mike Hopkins isn’t making room in the trophy case for a conference championship title just yet.

“It’s been a heckuva journey so far,” the UW coach said. “I’m happy with where we’re at, but there’s a long way to go and there’s more to get better at.”

At 18-4, Washington is off to its best 22-game start since the 2004-5 season when it began 19-3 and finished 29-6 and 14-4 in league.

And at 9-0, the Huskies are soaring to their best start in the conference since the 1952-53 season when they finished 28-3 overall and 16-2 in league.

With five weeks left in the season, Washington has a three-game lead in the Pac-12 while every other team has at least three conference losses.

“It’s like at halftime and you’re up nine, but what you tell them is the score is 0-0,” Hopkins said. “You’re not coaching the record. You’re coaching the next play.

“And that’s what great programs and great teams do. All we’re trying to do is get better.”

During their 11-game winning streak, the Huskies have outscored opponents by an average of 13.3 points. They’ve also registered double-digit wins in nine games, including Saturday’s 14-point win.

But Hopkins believes there’s room for improvement.

“I don’t think we played great tonight,” he said. “We’ve played good or maybe a little below in the past two games. We won, but where we want to be and what we want to accomplish, that’s not good enough. We still need to improve in so many areas.”

Against the Bruins, the Huskies lamented 17 turnovers and an inability at times to counter UCLA’s trapping full-court press.

“We’ve been seeing that these past few games with teams running a little 1-2-2 press,” guard David Crisp said. “We just made sure we had guys in the middle. … And the guys bringing it up in a two-guard front not forcing anything.

“We’ve been taking our time with it and slowly bringing it up. Toward that second half we got more aggressive. We started attacking it more. Once we started doing that, it really started opening up. We’re going to be a lot more aggressive against that in the future.”

The Huskies never seemed comfortable against UCLA’s press and they had very little success inside on the offensive end attacking 7-foot-2 freshman center Moses Brown.

At the other end, the Washington’s 2-3 zone forced 23 turnovers and the Bruins struggled in particular against Matisse Thybulle.

For the second straight game, the defensive ace finished with seven steals – two shy of the school record.

“I felt like they got tired of turning the ball over,” said Thybulle, who had six steals in the first half. “And they probably got really tired of me taking it. They were not going to risk it. I don’t blame them.”

Both teams converted 23 of 54 field goals, but the difference in the game was the perimeter shooting. Washington made 11 of 24 three-pointers while UCLA was 4 of 15.

In their last game against the Bruins, the Huskies made 2 of 22 behind arc during a 74-53 defeat at Pauley Pavilion.

With Crisp hitting four three-pointers and Thybulle making three, Washington could hardly miss from long range.

“It’s hard to have an answer for five guys,” Thybulle said. “We were able to get them from all areas of the court. We were hitting threes. We were getting to the hoop. We were getting guys in the post.

“When you don’t know where a team is attacking from, it’s really hard to cover every angle. The biggest thing from us was contributions from everyone.”

Jaylen Nowell and Crisp each scored 15 points, Thybulle had 14 while Sam Timmins (9) and Dominic Green (8) combined for 17 points off the bench.

Kris Wilkes, who was 0 for 5 on three-pointers, finished with a game-high 20 points and Prince Ali had 12 for UCLA (12-10, 5-4).

The Huskies led 31-23 at halftime and they went up by 14 points (46-32) midway through the second half.

UCLA used a 7-0 run to cut UW’s lead to seven points (46-39) and Washington answered with a 14-6 run to regain control.

Timmins, who flushed a putback dunk despite being fouled, sank the ensuing free throw that put the Huskies on top 60-45.

The junior forward played a season-high 24 minutes in place of Noah Dickerson, who sprained his right ankle early in the second half and didn’t return.

“He was a rock star,” Hopkins said when asked about Timmins. “He was unbelievable. Great energy on both ends. Everybody stepped up when (Dickerson) went down.”

Hopkins didn’t give a timetable on Dickerson’s return and losing the all-Pac-12 forward tempered the enthusiasm for a UW team that’s among the hottest in the nation.

The Huskies have the third-longest active winning streak behind Tennessee (15) and Gonzaga (12).

“There’s no pressure at all,” Crisp said when asked about the streak. “We never get too high and we never get too low.

“And we’ve experienced the lowest of lows. And we experienced some highs. Our success has been just being level headed. Keep your head down. Keep working. Keep getting better every day.”

Barring a second-half collapse, the Huskies are poised to capture their first regular-season conference title since 2012.

Washington joins the 2016-17 Arizona team as the only teams to start 9-0 since the Pac-12 expanded in 2011-12. The Wildcats won the regular-season title with a 16-2 record.

“We learned how to win and now we need to learn to be champions,” Hopkins said. “That’s on and off the court. When you’re trying to change a culture, you’re fighting for that thing every day.

“And you’re trying to just raise the bar. The kids have done a great job so far and I’m really proud of them.”

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