For at least one night, the Huskies smiled, laughed and exchanged playful banter with each other on the sidelines while the reserves mopped up the final seconds of a rare blowout victory.
Saturday night’s 62-51 win against California was just the second time this season the Washington men’s basketball team won by more than double digits.
Wins of any kind have been a rare commodity for UW (5-17, 4-13 Pac-12), which still needs one more victory to avoid the worst record in school history.
“They showed a lot of grit tonight,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “That’s big as we move forward. Just really proud of them getting a win tonight.”
The Huskies entered their final game this season at Alaska Airlines Arena with four straight home losses, but none of that mattered against an equally matched Golden Bears squad that had lost eight of its previous nine games.
Since Cal’s 84-78 win over UW on Jan. 9, both teams have been in a two-team race to the bottom of the Pac-12.
In the rematch, Hopkins adhered to Senior Night tradition and began the game with a lineup that included the team’s three seniors: Quade Green, Hameir Wright and Travis Rice.
Making the first start of his career, Rice, a walk-on guard, scored the game’s first points on a three-pointer, which drew the loudest cheers of the night from the UW bench and the limited number of spectators sprinkled throughout the building.
“We were excited for him,” Green said. “Trav’s first game starting and on Senior Night at that. You go out with memories. That’s what we did for him and he did it for himself by putting in the work everyday to hit the shot.”
Tied 10-10, Washington seized control with a 14-4 run – including eight straight points – to go up 24-14 after Cole Bajema’s three-pointer with 4:49 left in the first half.
The Huskies held the Bears to just 25% percent field-goal shooting and 16.7% on three-pointers (1 for 6) in the first half and went into the break ahead 30-23. UW may have had a bigger lead if not for nine first-half turnovers.
“It’s the first time since I’ve been here that we won Senior Night,” Hopkins said. “It’s just a great thing. I’m very happy to send off the seniors on their last night here. Travis Rice with an opening three-point shot, that was pretty special. He gave us a big shot in the arm confidence wise. We’ve been practicing that play for him and the place was going bananas. The players were excited for him.
“And then obviously, Hameir Wright and Quade Green to be able to come out there with a win and then Megan Black our head manager. It’s so nice to see them smile and be able to win their last game at Hec Ed.”
The Huskies built a 14-point lead (42-28) early in the second half before the Bears pulled to within 45-42 with 9:07 left.
However, Green, who finished with a game-high 17 points, six rebounds and three assists, wasn’t going to let Washington lose in his last home game.
Ahead 50-44 with 7:46 remaining, the senior point guard scored or assisted on nine of the Huskies’ final 12 points.
Green delivered the dagger with a dribble drive layup in traffic for a 59-50 lead with 2:14 left on the clock. Cal missed its final nine shots and was held without a field goal in the last eight minutes.
“We weren’t going to let the team lose,” said Green, who sank 6 of 11 field goals. “We owe Cal from the last game we played them and they beat us at their spot. We’re 1-1 right now and hopefully we’ll see them in the (Pac-12) tournament.”
Jamal Bey had 15 points and nine rebounds and Marcus Tsohonis chipped in 10 points and four assists for Washington, which shot 42.9% from the floor and 34.8% (8 of 23) on three-pointers.
“Quade in the second half when he calmed down – there’s a lot of emotion on Senior Night – he made some really good passes late to Jamal,” Hopkins said. “He had three assists and one turnover and he’s been averaging about four turnovers a game so that was great for him. He had six rebounds. He was battling. He was a lot more in control and when he plays like that he’s as good as any guard on the planet.”
Matt Bradley had 13 points and Andre Kelly 12 for Cal (8-17, 3-15).
The Golden Bears converted 26.7% of their field goals, including 3 of 17 on three-pointers. In their previous meeting, Cal shot 55.4% from the floor and was 11 of 18 on three-pointers.
“We were locked in on the personnel,” Hopkins said. “Our defense was better tonight against them. I thought there was some really good post defense. I thought we did a good job on their three-point shooters and knowing where they were and taking away their space. They had a solid awareness tonight for sure.”
Washington, which has won two of its past three games, takes some momentum and confidence heading into its final week of the regular season, which begins with back-to-back contests at Arizona State on Tuesday and Thursday.
“In the last five games we’re holding teams to (fewer than) 65 points,” Hopkins said. “In the second half we only had five turnovers. Turnovers lead to fast breaks and those types of things so we were better that way in the second half. Our guys are feeling more and more comfortable. They’re trying to keep guys in front. There were less open shots for the most part. Our guys just battled.”