Washington head coach Mike Hopkins wanted energy, and at first he didn’t get it.
A week after suffering its first Pac-12 defeat of the season, the Huskies (20-5, 11-1) started Saturday’s 72-70 victory over Washington State (10-15, 3-9) looking like the same team that limped out of the gate in the loss to Arizona State.
UW’s stifling zone defense — which had been holding conference opponents to 42.8 shooting from the field and 34.3 shooting from beyond the arc — was nearly unrecognizable in the opening half.
Washington State shot 59.3 percent from the field in scoring 45 first-half points, the most the Huskies have allowed in conference play. Only Auburn, who put up 48 during its victory in November, scored more points against UW in the first half this season.
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And when the Huskies emerged for the second half, they were furious about it.
“We didn’t like the fact that they did that,” said sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell. “We just made it a point to come out and make sure we shut that all down.”
In the week break between games, Hopkins stressed the importance of energy. It was missing against Sun Devils, he said. It was the reason the Huskies’ fell behind early, and it was the reason their second-half comeback attempt fell short.
For much of the victory over Washington State, Hopkins could have put himself on repeat.
“No, we didn’t (have energy),” senior forward Noah Dickerson agreed. ”We didn’t, we didn’t, we didn’t. We got to figure out what it was, but we’re going to get it done.”
Nowell said the message at halftime was simple: The Huskies could either give up another 45 points and lose, or they could cut that total in half. They didn’t quite succeed in the latter, but they came close.
Washington State scored just 25 points in the second half, shooting 36.4 percent from the field. Fueled by anger, the Huskies found the energy Hopkins had been looking for.
“Just figuring out what they were doing,” Dickerson said. “It’s hard when teams can shoot from deep because you got to stretch out. They were doing what they wanted to do in the first half. In the second half, we started figuring out what they wanted to do and just talking more, talking through it.”
As UW locked in defensively, it started to chip away at Washington State’s 45-36 halftime lead.
Trailing 51-43 with 14:43 remaining, the Huskies launched a 13-3 run. When Nowell capped it with a jumper with 9 minutes and 57 seconds left, he gave UW a 56-54 lead. It was the Huskies’ first advantage since they led 9-7 early in the first half.
The lead changed five times after that. Neither team pulled ahead by more than three points until Dickerson tipped in a missed layup by Nowell with 24 seconds left. That basket gave the Huskies a four-point lead, 71-67. Then, with 7 seconds left, Nowell went 1-of-2 from the foul line to put UW up 72-67.
Robert Franks drained a 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds remaining, but the Huskies had built enough of a cushion to hold on for the win. Their experience, Hopkins said, made all the difference in the end.
“I thought it was a really gritty win,” he said. “It could have easily gone the other way, but they made the adjustments. … That’s why a lot of experienced teams are better off a the end of the game and the end of the season.”
The Huskies were able to shut down Washington State’s leading scorers Franks and CJ Elleby in the fist half, holding them to four and three points, respectively.
Sophomore Marvin Cannon picked up the slack. He scored 18 first-half points and finished with a career-high 25 on 8-of-15 shooting from the field. He averages just 6.9 points per game.
“You can’t let (Washington State) shoot,” Hopkins said. “You have to force them to miss. … They make contested shots. You have to take them away. You can’t let them get into a rhythm. For the most part that’s want I thought we did a better job of in the second half.”
Franks did go 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the second half, but his attempts were — for the most part — deep and contested. He finished with 16 points.
Nowell scored seven points for UW in the final 10 minutes, finishing with a team-high 20. Dickerson had a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds. He also drew seven fouls, including two in the final 4 minutes.
But while the Huskies found better offensive flow after the break, shooting 50 percent from the field, Dickerson credited the defense with turning the game around.
“Once we started getting stops and things like that,” Dickerson said, “you could just see … the whole status of the team just change.”