The Huskies men’s basketball team, 2-16 a year ago in Pac-12 Conference play, equaled that win total Saturday afternoon with a late rally to beat Washington State 70-65 in Pullman’s Beasley Coliseum — and both wins have come on the road.
“I can’t explain to you how awesome it was,” said new coach Mike Hopkins as his team of irregulars moved to 12-4 overall and 2-1 in conference play. “Great teams are about players stepping up.”
When leading scorer Jaylen Nowell picked up his fourth foul inside 10 minutes, and leading rebounder Noah Dickerson fouled out less than two minutes later, things looked grim. But the Huskies’ 2-3 zone kicked in and harassed the Cougars, who led the NCAA nation in three-pointers with 12.1 per game, into 7 for 27 shooting from beyond the arc.
“It was ugly for us for awhile but we found a way,” Hopkins said. “Our defense really locked down. We were throwing things against the wall to see what stuck.”
Reserve Carlos Johnson helped breach the foul problems with 10 points in 14 minutes off the bench.
“Carlos was our defibrillator today,” Hopkins said. “Our heart rate was down and he brought us to life.”
Ahead 66-65 in the final 30 seconds, freshman Nowell took the ball up high and drove down the middle, went behind his back, pivoted and flipped up a six-footer to force the Cougars (0-3, 8-7) to pursue a three. When Robert Franks’ shot from the corner was off, the Huskies corralled the rebound and finished off the Cougars at the line. UW was eight-for-eight down the stretch.
Our goal was to take the three away,” he said. “They were 7 for 27. Defense wins.”
The Huskies missed 20 of their first 30 shots, but closed by hitting 19 of 25, almost all by driving inside. The Huskies missed 10 of 12 threes. Matisse Thybulle led the Huskies with 17 points and Nowell and David Crisp each had 15. The 6-7 Franks led WSU with 22 points and 12 rebounds
The Huskies were clobbered on the boards 40-25 but made up a lot by forcing 23 turnovers.
The Huskies, who split a pair of games with the Los Angeles schools last weekend, return for their home conference opener at 8 p.m. Thursday against Cal (Pac-12 Networks).