LAS VEGAS – One more game.
To a man, the top-seeded Huskies talked about summoning enough resolve and grit to fight through whatever injuries are plaguing them after Friday’s hard-fought 66-61 win over No. 5 Colorado to advance to Saturday’s Pac-12 tournament title game against Oregon (the Ducks beat Arizona State 79-75 in overtime).
“When you get to this point in the season everybody is banged up, let alone when you play three games in a row,” senior guard Matisse Thybulle said. “You’re going to be really feeling it. That’s why I think it’s going to come down to toughness and resiliency.
“To get this far in the tournament, you’re playing a lot of games and a lot of minutes and it takes a toll on your body. Whoever is willing to fight through that and bring that energy to get your guys rolling is going to be huge.”
Inside their T-Mobile Arena locker room, David Crisp walked gingerly before slumping into a chair and rubbing his achy left knee.
The pain coursing through his leg paled in comparison to the excitement he felt about being on the brink of Washington’s first conference tournament title since 2011.
“It feels great knowing how far we’ve come in the past two years,” said Crisp, who finished with 10 points despite connecting on just 3 of 12 field goals and 1 of 7 three-pointers. “I may be hurting, but it doesn’t matter. I can get through anything. We’ve got one more game to close this out and my leg could be broke and it wouldn’t matter.”
To get to the tournament title game, the Huskies had to overcome an 8-0 deficit and a horrendous offensive display in the first half when they shot 34 percent.
Down 33-27 at halftime, the Huskies started the second half with a decisive 25-5 run to take control of the game and surge ahead 52-38 with 8:57 remaining.
During the spurt, Colorado shot 1 of 14 from the field and 1 of 7 on three-pointers.
“We just challenged these guys to play defense,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “When you’ve got the national defensive player of the year who he should win it (in Thybulle), it changes things.
“And our guys battled. We played better defense. … That’s why we win. It’s been our defense all season.”
It was a return to form for Washington, which couldn’t slow down USC and needed to win a 78-75 shootout in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
In the second half against Colorado, the Huskies looked every bit like the team that led the Pac-12 in turnovers forced and finished second in points allowed.
The Buffaloes converted just 6 of 30 field-goal attempts after the break and were 2 of 16 on three-pointers. They also had 16 turnovers.
“In order to do things like that you have to be so locked in that it’s hard to focus on the numbers,” said Thybulle, who finished with 12 points and three blocks. “When you’re in the moment and you’re playing that hard, you don’t realize really what’s going on. You’re just reacting and hustling. And I think that says a lot.
“I don’t think any of the guys realized we were able to string together that many stops and hold them to low scoring. And it’s all because we brought energy and stayed locked in. And when you stay locked in, none of that other stuff matters.”
On the offensive end, Jaylen Nowell, the Pac-12 player of the year, and Nahziah Carter took advantage of favorable one-on-one matchups for many of their team-high-tying 14 points.
The UW guards consistently blew past defenders on dribble drives for midrange jumpers or layups. It was a winning formula against Colorado, which relied heavily on Tyler Bey’s game-high 22 points.
The Buffaloes (21-12) were playing their third straight game and their limited seven-man rotation wore down against the Huskies’ disruptive defense.
And yet, another dismal free-throw shooting performance nearly spoiled Washington’s comeback victory.
On Thursday, the Huskies hit 7 of 15 free throws and on Friday they were 17 of 27 at the line.
Washington missed 3 of its last 6 free throws, which allowed Colorado pull to within three points (64-61) with 17 seconds left.
After Crisp capped the scoring with a layup to seal the victory, the Huskies allowed themselves to enjoy a brief celebration before turning their attention to Saturday’s game.
“Fitting is one word, but more than anything I’m just proud,” Thybulle said. “It’s one thing to go into a tournament and be the No. 1 seed. Trying to live up to that is not easy because everyone is going to give you their best shot because everyone wants to take down the No. 1 seed.
“So for us to take that and roll with it and not let it get to our heads is huge. It’s going to help us and I’m excited.”
Carter smiled when asked about what it’s going to take to win a tournament title.
“Same thing that we did to get there,” he said. “Being gritty down the stretch. Not giving up leads down the stretch and poise.
“We can’t go in there thinking we’re already the champions. We can’t go in there submitting to anybody that may have beat us. We’ve just got to keep a level mindset and do what we do best, which is play defense.”