The Golden Bears pulled within three with just over 13 minutes left, but the Huskies outscored them 21-6 the rest of the way to secure a win in their final Pac-12 road game.
BERKELEY, Calif. — With two weeks remaining before Selection Sunday, Mike Hopkins is ready to compare NCAA tournament resumes with other so-called bubble teams.
The Washington men’s basketball coach had been reluctant to engage publicly in postseason discussions, but for a few minutes Saturday he shared a few of the private thoughts he’s had on the subject.
And when it comes to the Huskies, Hopkins believes they’re deserving of one of the 36 at-large NCAA tournament berths.
“I’ll do my little research and we got a helluva resume,” Hopkins said following Washington’s 68-51 victory at California. “When you look up on the board, they’re saying us. And they’re looking at the ‘W.’ That’s what it’s all about.
“We still have got some resume stuff left, but right now … we got a good one.”
Washington (19-10, 9-7 Pac-12) is in precarious position as it pertains to NCAA tournament consideration.
The Huskies have beaten three ranked teams (Kansas, Arizona and Arizona State), which appear headed to the NCAA tournament. They also have quality road wins at USC and Colorado.
However, Washington is 54th in the RPI and ranks much lower nationally in other metrics such as Sagaran ratings (95), KenPom (96) and BPI (115) that are being used by the Selection Committee.
Furthermore, the Huskies were stumbling toward the finish and had lost four of the previous five games before Saturday.
Still, Washington was able to polish up the postseason resume against a California team that’s headed to its worst record in the 111-year history of the program.
“All we can do is take care of what we can take care of,” Hopkins said. “Go there, execute, play our game and play together. Rebound and defend.
“Our defense, you could see it in certain periods it can be great. But if you’re not playing with that energy, whoa it’s painful.”
In their final Pac-12 road game, the Huskies traded baskets with California for about 25 minutes before pulling away midway through the second half and taking control.
“It’s always our energy,” said freshman guard Jaylen Nowell, who scored a game-high 23 points. “It was very low, very flat. So we talked as a team and made sure that we were coming out and playing this game to the best of our ability and not let up.”
Trailing 43-39 with 16:32 left, the Huskies broke the game open with a 21-6 run that began with a pair of Nowell free throws and ended with a fortuitous three-pointer by Matisse Thybulle.
The spurt also included a rim-rattling highlight dunk from Nahziah Carter that seemed to knock the wind out of the Bears and left the 7,851 fans at Haas Pavilion speechless.
“I’ve got no words for that,” Nowell said. “I was shocked. … I don’t know how he got up there, but it’s crazy because he does that a lot. That’s what he does. … That was one of the best dunks I’ve seen in person.”
The Huskies were ahead 45-43 when the freshman forward posterized 6-foor-8 senior forward Cole Welle with a vicious tomahawk slam despite being fouled.
“I was like noooo, reverse it,” Hopkins said. “Reverse it. And then, bam! Great play. Those types of plays are just energy plays. That’s what you want.”
Shortly after the three-point play, Noah Dickerson (16 points) flushed a dunk and scored on a layup to give UW a 55-45 lead.
Following two more free throws from Nowell, Thybulle banked in three-pointer as the shot clock expired to put the Huskies ahead 60-49.
Washington outscored Cal 29-8 in the final 16 minutes and held the Bears to just 23.1 percent shooting (6 of 26) in the second half.
Neither team led by more than five points in the first half and Cal’s Darius McNeil knotted the score at 35-35 at halftime with a three-pointer just before the break.
McNeill torched Washington with 17 points the first half on 6-of-8 shooting, including three 3-pointers. In the second half the Huskies held him scoreless.
The Bears (8-21, 2-14) received 12 points from freshman forward Justice Sueing and leading scorer Don Coleman finished with just 8 — half of his season average.
Dickerson applied constant pressure at both ends of the court on Cal’s senior big men Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh. Lee finished with six points and two rebounds before fouling out in 26 minutes while Okoroh (two points and four rebounds) was saddled with four fouls that limited his production.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we found ways,” Hopkins said. “I thought we were really aggressive on the defensive end in the second half.”
The win snapped a streak of three road losses for Washington, which finishes the regular season next week at Alaska Airlines Arena against Oregon State and Oregon.
“We control our own destiny,” Hopkins said. “All we can control is the next game, but I do feel like we’ve got a great resume. We’ll keep getting better and we’ll keep moving forward.”