After sleepwalking through the miserable offensive performance in the first half, the Huskies turned up the defensive intensity and beat Sacramento State 57-41.
Tired of the inconsistent performances that have plagued the Huskies, Mike Hopkins was hoping to receive a 40-minute effort in their next-to-last nonconference tuneup.
However, the Washington men’s basketball coach had to settle for another flat first-half outing followed by a dominant 20-minute performance in the second half Friday night.
“A half is better than zero, I guess,” Hopkins said.
After sleepwalking through a miserable offensive performance in the first half, Washington turned up the defensive intensity in the second half and cruised to a comfortable 57-41 victory.
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“We just came out flat,” Hopkins said. “I don’t know what it was. I started making some early substitutions. I was trying to find some energy.
“I needed to see energy. We started off and lacked a little bit of focus.”
The slow starts have been a disturbing pattern for Washington (8-4), which has trailed in seven of its 12 games.
In front of 6,888 at Alaska Airlines Arena, the Huskies were stymied by a Sacramento State squad that left UW shooters open on the perimeter while building a fortress in the paint around all-conference forward Noah Dickerson, who was saddled with foul troubles and had a quiet 12 points.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, they went 0 for 11 on three-pointers in the first half.
Hopkins could live with another poor shooting performance, but the Hornets’ 19-12 rebounding advantage in the first half made him furious.
“They played tougher than us, which is the worst thing you can say as a coach,” he said. “It’s the worst thing you can say is that a team played harder and tougher than you and for the first half they did.”
Down 22-19 at the break, the Huskies began the second half with an 11-0 run that turned the game around.
“Halftime allowed us to take a step back, take a breather and realize that we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing,” said senior guard Matisse Thybulle, who finished with 12 points. “So we came out not messing around. We were ready to go.”
In the second half, the Huskies outscored the Hornets 38-19 while holding them to 3-for-22 shooting from the field.
On the offensive end, Washington couldn’t rely on its perimeter attack, which sank a season-low-tying three three-pointers on 19 attempts.
The Huskies needed 11 points off the bench from sophomore guard Nahziah Carter because their leading scorer, Jaylen Nowell, finished with just four points – 14 fewer than his average.
But it was Washington’s defense that won the game.
The Huskies pressured and trapped Sacramento State guards in the backcourt and relied on their suffocating 2-3 zone defense that forced 21 turnovers, resulting in 24 points.
“We took pride last year in being one of the best defenses if not the best defense in the Pac-12,” said Thybulle, who had seven steals – two shy of a UW record – and two blocks. “We’re trying to get back to that team and get that same energy because when we play like that it’s tough to stop us.”
Sacramento State (6-3), which received 12 points from Marcus Graves and Joshua Patton, tallied a season low in points.
“Sometimes when we play against mid-majors, we come out flat,” Carter said. “But we’ve got to understand that most teams are good. … We’ve still got to come out with that fire like we’re down 15.”
For just the second time this season, Hopkins was able to empty his bench in a blowout win.
“I told these guys, you have to respect the game,” he said. “You have to go out and play like it’s your last game every time. If you don’t, you can lose to anybody. You can’t look at the record. You can’t look at the school. You can’t look at the conference.
“That’s just the way college basketball is. You see that every night. Big leagues, small leagues, there’s upsets and that’s why they play the game. For us to reach our potential we need that focus for 40 minutes.”