As USC’s Nick Rakocevic stepped to the foul line early in the second half, Washington guard Matisse Thybulle gathered his teammates around him.
The Huskies’ 11-point halftime lead was dwindling. When Rakocevic made the free throw, he capped a 10-2 USC run that trimmed UW’s advantage to 38-35. But before he took the shot, Thybulle quickly got his message across. His words were familiar — maybe even repetitive to the Huskies by now — but they remained effective.
After the game, Noah Dickerson recalled Thybulle’s message: “We’re good. We know that. … Just lock back in on the defensive end.”
Sometimes it’s been David Crisp giving that speech. Other times, it’s been Thybulle or Dickerson or Dominic Green. But no matter which UW senior steps in to regroup the Huskies, it always seems to work.
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The Huskies’ 75-62 victory over USC on Wednesday night was no exception.
After Rakocevic’s free throw, Jaylen Nowell grabbed an offensive rebound and found Thybulle for a second-chance 3-pointer. That stopped the bleeding. It also started a 10-2 run for the Huskies.
UW (17-4, 8-0 Pac-12) rattled off seven consecutive points during the spurt on a Dickerson dunk, a Crisp 3-pointer and a Dickerson jumper. Just like that, UW’s lead was back to 11 points, 48-37. The Trojans (12-9, 5-3) never got closer than seven points for the rest of the half.
“They’re just resilient,” UW head coach Mike Hopkins said of his team. “That’s a credit to those kids. I think in any situation we’ve been in, they always feel like we can respond. And that’s what great teams do.”
Dickerson had his best game of conference play, finishing with 21 points and 14 rebounds. He also drew nine fouls.
“We’ve been going with what works and every night, it’s someone else,” Thybulle said. “Tonight, Noah got to dominate.”
Thybulle had 17 points, six rebounds, seven steals and two blocks. Crisp and Jaylen Nowell joined them in double figures with 15 and 12 points, respectively.
The Huskies have been tested en route to their perfect conference record. But no matter how hard an opponent has pushed, UW has pushed back harder. Oregon learned that last week. The Ducks even managed to take the lead in the second half before they were defeated by Jaylen Nowell’s three free throws in the final seconds.
There was more of the same against the Trojans.
Once again, UW got off to a fast start, jumping out to a 15-4 advantage. Slow starts were a reoccurring problem for the Huskies during the non-conference season. In Pac-12 play, that issue has all but vanished.
“It starts with our defense,” Hopkins said. “How many times do we start with a steal or a dunk or a deflection? When you go out there and you have that intimidation piece from the beginning, that’s when other teams start going this is going to be a long night. And that’s how you have to make them feel.”
USC responded with a 9-2 run that trimmed the Huskies’ advantage to 17-15. Predictably, UW then outscored the Trojans 14-3 over the next 5 minutes and 53 seconds. By the time the run ended, the Huskies had pushed their lead back to double figures, 31-18.
UW led 36-25 at the halftime.
“Everything with us is just energy,” Thybulle said. “We’re the only thing that can stop us at this point so we have to come out and bring energy and get it from the jump.”
The Trojans’ last gasp came on a Bennie Boatright dunk that cut UW’s lead to seven points with 5:08 left. But the Huskies had one more run in them. They scored nine unanswered points to go ahead by a game-high 16 points, 71-55, with 1:54 remaining.
UW out-rebounded USC 40-28, including 17-10 on the offensive boards. The Huskies will look to move to 9-0 in conference play against UCLA on Saturday afternoon.
Against USC, Dickerson said he electricity coming from the 9,121 fans inside Alaska Airlines Arena made all the difference.
“Not even on the offensive end, but on the defensive end,” Dickerson said. “That energy is everything. When you play at home, you hear the Dawg Pack cheering all night. When you’re in the gym and you have a hard time hearing the coach call the play, that’s when you know it’s rocking in there.”