The Huskies have a lot of work to do over the next two months to snap a seven-year NCAA tournament drought.
Washington outscored No. 13 Virginia Tech 40-34 in the second half, but it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome an 18-point halftime deficit.
The Huskies’ 73-61 loss in the Boardwalk Classic drops their record to 7-4.
Three impressions from Saturday’s game in Atlantic City, N.J.
Margin for error narrows
Famed baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “It’s getting late early,” which sums up Washington’s postseason prospects. Barely a third of the way into the season, it seems silly to suggest in December that the Huskies (7-4) can’t find a way into the NCAA tournament.
But Washington has lost three nonconference games against ranked opponents, which could prove costly in March. If the Huskies had captured just one of those games, then they wouldn’t have so much pressure to be nearly perfect once Pac-12 play begins.
At the moment, No. 20 Arizona State is the conference’s only ranked team, which suggests only a handful of teams will receive an at-large NCAA tourney berth.
Assuming Washington wins its final two nonconference tuneups, then theoretically the Huskies will need to go 14-4 in the Pac-12 to finish the regular season at 23-8 and feel comfortable about its Big Dance prospects heading into the postseason.
A 12-6 Pac-12 record would put UW at 21-10 and it would likely need a win or two in the conference tournament to warrant an NCAA tourney at-large berth.
At any rate, the Huskies have a lot of work to do over the next two months to snap a seven-year NCAA tournament drought.
Matisse Thybulle for three
After starting the season connecting on just 3 of 22 three-pointers (13.6 percent), Thybulle has made 13 of 29 (44.8%) in the past five games.
On Saturday, the senior guard tied a career best with five three-pointers on nine attempts for a game-high 16 points. It’s rare when Thybulle is UW’s best offensive player, but he carried them in the second half with 13 points after the break.
The Huskies generally play solid defense that’s good enough to win, but too often the offense bogs down. Nothing comes easy. Opponents are smothering all-Pac-12 forward Noah Dickerson inside and there’s going to be nights when leading scorer Jaylen Nowell will be held in check.
When that happens, Thybulle will have to be more assertive and look for his shot like he did Saturday when he made 5 of 10 field goals.
Until the scouting report changes, it might be a good idea for Nowell and Dickerson to begin games as playmakers who try to get guys like Thybulle and David Crisp easy shots before taking over in the second half.
Against Virginia Tech, Dickerson fouled with 2:04 left after tallying a season-low-tying seven points on 1-for-7 shooting from the field and seven rebounds in 25 minutes.
Normally efficient, Nowell had his worst shooting of the season and converted 4 of 13 shots for 10 points.
If three-point specialist Dominic Green is going to make just 1 of 7 shots behind the arc, then coach Mike Hopkins will need to play Nahziah Carter more minutes.
The sophomore guard finished with 11 points, a career-high nine rebounds and a personal-best 29 minutes.
Why so many three-pointers?
The Huskies shoot 31.7 percent behind the arc, which ranks 257th among the 351 Division I teams.
And yet for some reason Washington attempted 30 three-pointers, which accounted for half of its shots on Saturday. (Granted UW made 8 of 19 in the second half when it cut a 39-21 halftime deficit to seven points with 9:03 left.)
The Huskies tried to get the ball inside to Dickerson, but when he was unavailable the play generally resulted in a three-pointer.
And it’s not the first time the Huskies have been overly reliant on the long ball.
In four of their past five games, 47.5 percent of their shots have been behind the line.
“This was a great experience for us,” Huskies coach Mike Hopkins told The Associated Press. “We made the adjustments that we needed to make (at halftime), but we can’t wait 20 minutes to figure that out.”
Nickell Alexander-Walker scored 24 points for Virginia Tech (9-1), which won its fourth straight since a one-point loss at Penn State on Nov. 27.
“I wish our energy level would have been the same at Penn State as it was tonight,” Hokies coach Buzz Williams told AP. “I think we learned a lesson in this game. We had a much higher level of togetherness.”