Beating the No. 9 Wildcats may have gotten Washington back to the NCAA tournament. And when it becomes a college-hoops power again, it will look at the 78-75 win as the turning point.
Yes, that really happened.
Yes, that ball went through.
A result that was once unimaginable still seems unbelievable.
A 78-75 win over ninth-ranked Arizona? Get outta here. A buzzer-beating, contest-winning three by Dominic Green? No way.
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These are the moments kids fantasize about in their driveways. And Saturday, fantasy became reality.
It was just 11 months ago that the Washington basketball team finished its season with two wins in conference and nine wins overall. And that was with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft on its roster.
This was supposed to be a season in which the Huskies served as a bye game for their Pac-12 opponents. Instead, they’ve become the most pleasant surprise Seattle sports has seen in years.
Still, despite that shocking improvement, you couldn’t have expected UW to shock Arizona. You couldn’t have guessed that it would have neutralized one of the best players in the country and caused the crowd to rush the court.
But it happened. All of it. And if the Huskies are a perennial NCAA tournament team five years from now, Saturday will be considered the launching point.
“It’s just incredible,” said first-year Huskies coach Mike Hopkins, who now has the Dawgs 17-6 overall and 7-3 in the Pac-12. “That’s what makes sports special — you play the games.”
There hasn’t been a game this highly anticipated in Hec Ed in years. And the sellout crowd let that be known from the second the Huskies were introduced.
Personally, I’ve never heard the arena so loud, and the Huskies did their part to increase the decibel level with each passing minute.
The first big cheer came after a jump shot by Noah Dickerson to put the Huskies up, 2-0. The cheers would continue thanks to clutch three-pointers, monstrous defensive stops and crucial second-chance points.
The fans showed the nation that Alaska Airlines Arena is one of the more underrated atmospheres in college basketball. And the Huskies showed the nation that their program is back.
No, Washington wouldn’t likely win a seven-game series with Arizona, but Saturday’s result wasn’t a fluke. The Huskies owned the first half against the Wildcats, who were clearly flustered by UW’s zone.
Arizona 7-foot-1 forward DeAndre Ayton — who might go No. 1 in the NBA draft this June — struggled to get quality position near the bucket. And Arizona couldn’t get a clean look from three.
These are a couple of the reasons that Washington led for the first 33½ minutes of the game — but really, there was so much more.
There was Dickerson scoring 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting despite barely ever leaving the ground. The 6-foot-8 junior gave up 5 inches to Ayton in height, about 30 inches in vertical leap, yet outclassed the Pac-12’s best player with pump fakes and jump hooks all night long.
There was point guard David Crisp scoring 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including a pair of threes. There was center Sam Timmins grabbing seven rebounds while slowing down Ayton and his 7-foot teammate, Dusan Ristic.
There was UW’s poise in withstanding a late Arizona charge that could have crushed other teams. There was the basketball gods helping out Crisp and Jaylen Nowell, who each banked in threes as the shot clock expired.
And, of course, there was Green.
The junior has struggled with his confidence in the past, but there was no doubt in his game Saturday. He hit his first three off the bench and ended up with 14 points while going 4 of 5 from deep. His last triple, however, will go down as one of the greatest shots in Husky hoops history.
With four seconds left and the game tied at 75, Nowell drove to the basket but was rejected by Ayton. Fortunately for the Huskies, the ball was deflected out to Green, who hoisted up a three just before the buzzer sounded.
Nothing. But. Net. And he knew it the whole time.
“I said ‘oh, that’s good’ as soon as it left my hand,” Green said.
Needless to say, the fans rushed the court. And the rush the players feel will last for days.
Suddenly, the Huskies look likely to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years, and may very well crack the AP Top 25 Monday.
Yes, this is all really happening.