Daejon Davis and Emmitt Matthews Jr. weren’t missing this game.
One of the reasons the Pacific Northwest natives returned home last summer and transferred to Washington for their senior seasons was to play against Washington State in the men’s basketball version of the Apple Cup.
Their return explains why Terrell Brown Jr. beamed and yelled: “The gang is back” when he saw Davis, who missed the past five games due to a right-shoulder injury, and Matthews, who sat out the previous game because of concussion protocols, participating in pregame warmup drills.
Finally, back at full health for the first time in three weeks, the Huskies overcame a halftime deficit and held off cross-state rival Washington State in the final minutes for a thrilling 78-70 victory on Saturday afternoon in front of 7,269 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“I played in a bunch of rivalry games before, but this one is different,” said Matthews, who spent the past three years at West Virginia. “This one is home. In this one, you’re playing for more than (yourself). It’s almost like you’re trying to win the people over. You’re trying to get some people that are wearing red to turn purple.
“So when you go out there and you see all the fans out there, they’re cheering ignorant things at us out there. You hear those things and you know what the rivalry really means. Then when you get in the game and you experience it for the first time, then you really get to know what it’s like. Just going out there and competing with my brothers and winning that game. I know much how much it meant to everybody on our team, staff and fans.”
Matthews, who got hit in the head last week at UCLA, targeted Saturday’s return whereas Davis was questionable before the game.
“He came up to me before the (start) and said (his shoulder) feels kind of sore,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “I said listen, let’s communicate. If you can’t go, then you can’t go. It’s funny what adrenaline does when you see a crowd like we had, especially in a rivalry game. It’s funny what it does when it becomes competitive. We’ve got competitors, but Daejon is one of the best competitors. He wanted to play and he was a big difference in the game tonight.”
Davis erased any doubt regarding his durability early in the second half when he swiped an errant pass from WSU guard Tyrell Roberts and raced ahead to flush a two-handed dunk.
On the ensuing possession, Davis fell and landed on his left shoulder while collecting a rebound. He immediately bounced up and never showed any sign of favoring his shoulder.
“He had to get used to the game again,” Brown said. “Once he got used to the game again and the physicality he was fine. It was a huge boost to our team just because it’s not about his scoring, it’s about his leadership. His defensive leadership, his knowledge of the game. He went to Stanford. He’s just a smart player. He’s a great teammate. A great family member for us. We’re all brothers. He brought us another level of energy with him and Emmitt back. … It just gave us some new energy.”
Davis tallied nine points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block in 27 minutes off the bench.
“Pretty spectacular for a guy who practiced one day in the last three weeks,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been saying it for a while, we’re a different team with him.”
Including the 80-69 defeat at Stanford when Davis was injured in the opening minutes, Washington was 1-5 without its senior point guard.
UW’s downturn was highlighted by a four-game losing streak and Wednesday’s 78-70 loss at Washington State.
The score and just about everything else was flipped in Saturday’s rematch.
The Huskies (14-13, 9-8 Pac-12) negated WSU forwards Mouhamed Gueye, who had a career-high 25 points, and Efe Abogidi, who tallied 21 points and 14 rebounds, three days earlier.
This time, the Huskies contracted their 2-3 zone to shut down WSU’s interior scorer, which held Gueye and Abogidi to just 14 points and nine rebounds.
While the Huskies prioritized stopping Gueye and Abogidi, 6-foot-1 guard Michael Flowers put his stamp on the first half with a superlative shooting performance while connecting on his first five shots, including four three-pointers.
Flowers scored 20 of his game-high 30 points in the first half and carried WSU to a 34-28 lead at the break. He converted 6 of 8 field goals, including five three-pointers in the first half while the other Cougars shot 6 of 27 and 0 for 8 behind the arc. After intermission, UW switched to a man-to-man defense and WSU connected on 1 of its first 12 shots to start the second half.
“We couldn’t get separation in the first half,” Hopkins said. “We allowed some threes. They were beating us first to the ball. In the second half, it was you got him, you got him and you got him. They didn’t score their first eight possessions.”
The Huskies took advantage of the Cougars’ drought and captured their first lead (37-36) after Brown converted a short jumper and sank the ensuing free throw with 15:15 left.
Brown converted just 1 of 9 field goals in the first half before scoring 21 of his team-high 25 points in the second half. His step-back jumper put the Huskies up 44-38 and his pullup jumper gave them a 59-51 lead with 7:37 left.
“I can’t tell you guys my secrets,” he said smiling when asked about his second-half adjustments. “Breath. Sometimes you got to relax a little bit. I know my teammates have my back. I know the coaching staff has belief in me. My teammates believe in me. Just relaxing and breathing. And just knowing who you are as a player. The work I put in with the staff and my teammates, sometimes it’s like that. But coach keeps telling me it balances itself out. … Basketball evens out eventually.”
Hopkins added: “(At halftime) we knew, they had too many threes and Terrell was 1 for 9. We believe he’s the best player in the league. We knew he wasn’t going to go 1 for 9 again. We felt like we had to open up the court. We started playing a little bit smaller. We started driving them and we got into the bonus. He delivers. That’s that he does.”
The Huskies converted 22 of 29 free throws while the Cougars were 13 of 13 at the line.
Washington used a nine-man rotation in the first half, but in the second half Hopkins relied on just six players, including Brown, Matthews and Nate Roberts (nine points and eight rebounds) who never left the court.
“That’s just the way the game went,” Hopkins said. “I could see it in their eyes. I can say it over and over, they were not letting us lose. They were going to gut that thing out.
“Today, that’s what I was riding with. It was the most important game moving forward with the amount of games that we have left. Roll the dice. Put everything on the table and those guys delivered.”
Matthews had 15 points and eight rebounds while Jamal Bey added 13 points and drained a couple of three-pointers.
WSU cut its deficit to 73-70 with 37 seconds left when Matthews broke free and punctuated the Husky win with an emphatic dunk with 28 seconds remaining that drew a huge roar from the UW crowd.
Washington scored on 16 of its last 20 possessions after going scoreless in the final 2½ minutes on Wednesday.
“We were getting stops,” Brown said. “We don’t really pride ourselves on the offensive game. … We just take pride on defense. The offense will come.”
Gueye finished with 10 points for WSU, which fell to 15-13 and 8-9.
In keeping with the tradition of an Apple Cup rivalry, the game included derisive chants from fans, an unusual technical foul on a UW backup walk-on for excessive celebration on the court and several heated exchanges between players.
In particular, WSU guard Noah Williams got involved in several skirmishes late in the game. The former O’Dea High standout who starred in several wins against UW during his three-year career missed his first 10 shots and finished with seven points on 2-for-13 shooting.
“He’s a competitor,” Brown said. “He’s a good player. He takes pride in the Apple Cup just like we take pride in the Apple Cup. I know his family. He knows my family. It’s just competitiveness from one person that grew up in Seattle and knows what it’s about.”
Washington’s four-game homestand continues with Monday’s matchup against No. 12 UCLA while Washington State plays at Oregon State.
“They expect to win,” Hopkins said. “That’s the cool thing about these guys. (Heading into halftime), Terrell kept telling me we’re good going. We got this,” Hopkins said. “I felt like that was a great college basketball game.
“That means a lot to our fans. It was special. In the locker room, there were a lot of hugs. They realize they didn’t do what we need to do in the first half, but just galvanized together and were really gritty. We played really tough in the second half.”