After a few subpar shooting efforts, the Huskies cruised to an 83-59 victory over Eastern Washington behind 25 points from Dominic Green. The Huskies have one more game before playing at No. 1 Gonzaga next Wednesday.
The opposing players in gray jerseys represented Eastern Washington, but in reality the Huskies were playing against themselves.
Even though the Washington men’s basketball team entered Tuesday’s game with a respectable 4-2 record, UW had been mostly out of sync this season because of an offense that lacked cohesion and couldn’t shoot straight.
But in front of 6,054 at Alaska Airlines Arena, Washington at long last shared the ball and made a few perimeter shots, which resulted in the balanced point production that Mike Hopkins had been searching for.
And if the Huskies are going to have any chance next week of pulling off a huge upset at No. 1 Gonzaga, then they’ll need a repeat performance of last night’s 83-59 win.
“I don’t care if you win by one, you win by 20 or whatever it is, I just want to play good,” Hopkins said. “It’s never about the score, it’s about our performance.
“We moved the ball as good as we’ve moved (it). We found the shooters. When you do that, it’s a positive vibe and you got great rhythm. And we were able to knock down some shots.”
There’s no evidence to suggest Washington is looking ahead to its showdown with the Bulldogs, which might be the biggest game of the season – if not the decade – for the Huskies and their long-suffering fans that’s watched the Zags rise to a national powerhouse while UW has missed the NCAA tournament in the past seven years.
But a few days ago Hopkins acknowledged the Huskies had blown opportunities to capture a signature win like last year’s road victory against No. 2 Kansas, which galvanized the team ahead of a surprising 21-win season.
In its first big test this season, Washington was run off the court during an embarrassing 88-66 defeat at No. 11 Auburn two weeks ago.
And last week, the Huskies were upended 68-66 in the final seconds against Minnesota in the Vancouver Showcase finale.
Washington had little to gain and much to lose Tuesday against Eastern Washington, which had a 1-14 record versus UW in a series that began in 1989.
Even without All-Pac-12 forward Noah Dickerson who was ill and sat out the first half, the Huskies were expected to win comfortably against a EWU team that managed just 34 and 47 points in early-season lopsided losses to Syracuse and Oregon, respectively.
But it wasn’t enough for UW to simply come out on top on the scoreboard.
The Huskies needed the wildly inconsistent David Crisp to break out of a four-game scoring slump. They needed much-maligned Matisse Thybulle, who had converted just 3 of 22 three-pointers, to get on track.
And they needed someone on the bench to emerge offensively.
Check. Check. And check.
Crisp was remarkably efficient while scoring 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including three three-pointers.
Thybulle connected on 2 of 5 three-pointers and finished with eight points, three blocks, two steals and two assists.
And backup guard Dominic Green exploded for 25 points and 7 three-pointers – both career highs.
The superlative performances almost overshadowed a near triple-double outing from sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell, who finished with eight points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
“Today we just had more awareness,” Hopkins said. “The ball was popping. We got really good looks. Matisse looked great. David looked great. The ball found the open man and unfortunately for them it was Dominic Green.”
The 6-foot-6 three-point specialist had struggled this season while connecting on just 7 of 21 behind the arc, which might explain why Eastern repeatedly left him alone in the corner.
“I felt like they just fell asleep,” said Green, who converted 7 of 10 three-point attempts. “I had a very bad game before I’m not really on the radar as much.
“When they’re worried about Jaylen, Dave or Matisse and even Noah. He’s great at passing out of the post. When they’re worried about those guys, it just lets me roam around and find the open spot.”
It was nearly a historic night for Green, who checked out for good with over six minutes left and fell two three-pointers shy of tying UW’s game record set by Ryan Appleby in 2008.
“I don’t ever think he’s going to miss,” Crisp said. “If you give him an open look, it’s like a layup. He kept getting open looks and they didn’t make adjustments.”
Washington entered the game ranked 300th nationally in three-point shooting (29.5 percent) and 319th in the country with 10.3 assists per game.
But in their highest scoring game of the season, the Huskies sank 12 of 28 from downtown. They also had a season-high 14 assists on 28 field goals.
“When the ball pops it’s fun to play,” Hopkins said. “When the ball stops it not. The great thing about our team is we got a lot of really good players. Tonight it was Dominic Green’s night. Tomorrow it might be Matisse’s.
“They’re all threats. … But the ball has to keep moving and it did tonight.”
Ahead 35-25 at halftime, Washington began the second half with a 28-14 run that put the game away. Green’s final three-pointer gave the Huskies a 63-40 lead with 11:01 left.
Eastern, which received a team-high 15 points from Jesse Hunt and fell to 1-4, never got closer than 22 points the rest of the way.
Hopkins was finally able to give UW reserves quality minutes and emptied the bench for the first time this season.
The Huskies finished the game with a lineup that included Bryan Penn-Johnson and Jamal Bey – a pair of freshmen – alongside a trio of walk-ons (Jason Crandall, Travis Rice and Reagan Lundeen) making their season debuts.
It was a satisfying end for Washington (5-2), which has one last tune-up on Sunday against UC Santa Barbara before heading over to face Gonzaga.
“Every game is different and every game poses different challenges,” Hopkins said. “The biggest focus is that’s our intention is to move the ball, pop the ball.
“That’s what good offensive teams do.”