LAS VEGAS – No. 1 seed Washington finally shook free of No. 8 USC in the final minute for a 78-75 win on Thursday in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals at T-Mobile Arena.
The Huskies advance to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2011 where they’ll face No. 5 Colorado at 6 p.m. Friday.
Here are three impressions.
UW’S OFFENSE SHOWS UP
The Huskies have scored more points, but you could argue this was their best offensive game of the season.
Washington registered season highs in assists (19) and three-pointers (13) while shooting 48.3 percent from the field.
It was a complete reversal from Saturday’s regular season finale when UW managed just 3 three-pointers in a 55-47 loss to Oregon.
Surprisingly, Hameir Wright got things started with two 3-pointers early. Then David Crisp got going and finished with three 3-pointers en route to 18 points. He also had six assists.
Jaylen Nowell, the Pac-12 player of the year, was again remarkably efficient while connecting on 4 of 4 three-pointers for 24 points. He was 8 of 13 from the field and 4 of 6 on free throws.
At times, Nahziah Carter was the best player on the floor while scoring 13 points in 19 minutes.
And Dominic Green proved clutch once again with a dagger 3-pointer in the final minute. It was his third shot behind the arc.
The Huskies were so good offensively that Noah Dickerson’s 1-for-7 shooting performance hardly mattered. He finished with just two points and 11 rebounds.
“We’ve got an offensive arsenal,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “When we share the ball like we did tonight, the ball was moving. The ball was popping. … We can beat anybody and I think that’s the biggest key.”
WHERE’S THE DEFENSE?
The Huskies built an identity as a defensive-minded team, but surprisingly they’ve allowed at least 75 points in three of their last five games.
Not sure if’s that a winning formula that can net a tournament title for this team.
California scored 76 points in a win two weeks ago and Oregon State put up 76 points during UW’s overtime win last week.
Thursday’s game was a track meet and Washington never slowed down USC, which shot 54 percent in the half and outscored UW 37-35 in the second half.
And it wasn’t just one guy having a big night.
Jonah Matthews hit 6 of 12 shots, Nick Rakocevic was 8 of 16 and Kevin Porter Jr. 6 of 8 while each scored 17 points. The Huskies harassed Benny Boatwright into a bad shooting night (5 of 14), but he still tallied 4 three-pointers and 16 points.
Of course, Washington came up with the game’s most important defensive play when Matisse Thybulle intercepted a pass for a steal and fastbreak dunk in the final 37 seconds.
It’s great not to be one-dimensional and prove you can win in a variety of ways.
But UW would be well served to once again reclaim the mantle as the league’s best defense and not necessarily rely on red-hot three-point shooting.
UP NEXT: COLORADO
The old adage says it’s tough to beat a team three times in a row, but if Washington is going to advance to the conference finals it’s going to have to win a third game against Colorado.
In their first matchup, the Huskies beat the Buffaloes 77-70 at CU Events Center on Jan. 12. UW led for over 39 minutes and was up 48-35 at halftime. Washington went ahead 52-37 early in the second half, but struggled to generate points after the break. Crisp had four 3-pointers for 16 points and Nowell scored 19. CU lost point guard McKinley Wright IV midway in the second half to a shoulder injury.
Washington clobbered Colorado 64-55 in the rematch on Feb. 23 at Alaska Airlines Arena. The Huskies received a dominant performance from Thybulle who finished with 17 points, six steals, five blocks and three rebounds. CU’s Tyler Bey finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Colorado is one of hottest teams in the Pac-12 with a three-game winnign streak, including Thursday’s 73-58 win over Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals.
In two games, Bey averages 17.5 points and 10 rebounds against the Huskies.
“Washington obviously is champion of the league over an 18-game schedule and they’re very, very good,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “They’ve got a lot of good players. But the teams that have had success against Washington are the teamsthat have really guarded them well. And we’re going to have to do that again tomorrow.
Obviously we’re going to have to handle the zone andtake care of the ball. We had 19 turnovers last time we played them in Seattle. Hopefully we can have that turnaround like we had today, taking care of the ball and ratcheting up our defense. And if we do, that we’ll give ourselves a chance.”