Quade Green danced with the ball in the middle of the floor while rocking USC defenders off balance and creating just enough space to pull up for midrange jumpers or launch driving teardrop layups.
It was another one of those superlative shooting nights for the diminutive senior point guard, who carried a listless Washington men’s basketball team that was overmatched and outclassed during a 69-54 defeat against No. 20 USC on Thursday night.
“Just attack them,” Green said when asked about his mentality heading into a matchup with the Trojans, who are the tallest team in the nation. “But they got too many big guys on the floor.”
The David-versus-Goliath metaphor was an apt description for the key combatants Thursday night.
One side there was Green, a 6-foot playmaker repeatedly running into an impenetrable wall created by USC’s Evan and Isaiah Mobley, who are 7-foot and 6-10 respectively.
Whenever Green avoided confrontations in the paint, he found success while putting on a dazzling display in the first half and scoring 14 of his team-high 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting.
But in the second half, the Trojans harassed and hounded Green, who converted just 1 of 6 shots and finished with a season-high seven turnovers.
“Sometimes Q, because he’s such a good player, he tries to force it a little bit,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “But also teams are designed to stop him. Making that extra pass is huge and I felt some of his turnovers, he was just trying to do too much. Sometimes that happens.
“But he’s a heckuva player and sometimes you have those games. USC is one of the best defensive teams. I think they’re the No. 1 defensive team in our league. They’re exceptionally long at every position. … Q is about 6 feet tall, so that poses a lot of problems with their length.”
Washington, which ranks last in the Pac-12 while allowing 82.8 points in conference games, surrendered fewer than 70 points for the first time in 12 games.
It was just the third fewest points this season for a UW opponent, which most nights would be an ideal scenario for a Huskies’ win.
However, Washington’s offense, which was averaging 74.5 points in the past nine games, turned as frigid as the temperatures outside Alaska Airlines Arena and had its worst night in six weeks.
“Defensively, I thought we did a good job with the tempo,” Hopkins said. “For the most part I feel like we stopped them in terms of points, but we still gave up too many offensive rebounds and too many second-chance points.”
Hopkins lamented a 41-24 rebounding disparity that favored USC. He was also dismayed by UW’s 5-for-22 three-point shooting and 14 turnovers, which led to 17 points.
“Offensively, I felt like we did a decent job, but it was just our turnovers,” Hopkins said. “We just turned it over too much and we don’t have a large margin for error. Maybe you take away five turnovers and they become five three-point opportunities. Now we have a real chance to pick them off. But USC is big.”
Before the game, Hopkins conceded USC was a bad matchup for the undersized Huskies, who were trounced 95-68 at the Galen Center in their previous meeting with the Trojans on Jan. 14.
Still, Hopkins said: “We believe we have the game plan to beat them.”
The margin of the defeat was much closer this time, but realistically the Huskies gave the Trojans a battle for about 16 minutes.
Early in the game, Green provided most of the offense and Jamal Bey (10 points) drained a driving layup that put Washington ahead 27-23 with 5:49 remaining in the first half.
Slowly, USC began to use its superior size and athleticism on the front line to impose its will and wear down the Huskies. With UW’s starting forwards Hameir Wright and Nate Roberts sitting on the bench in foul trouble, the Trojans went on an 18-4 run to take control of the game.
During the spurt, Isaiah Mobley flushed a dunk in traffic over 7-foot-4 reserve center Riley Sorn before his younger brother Evan converted an alley-oop dunk in traffic just before halftime.
Washington trailed 41-31 at the break.
“I felt like the game got out of hand when they went on an (18-4 run) at the end of the first half,” Hopkins said. “We were right there, so we just go through spurts that hurt us. But our guys fought back. We put ourselves in position to get it to eight.”
In the second half, the Huskies were intent on shoring up an interior defense that was outrebounded 24-9 and outscored 30-12 in the paint in the first half and in part the strategy worked.
Washington surrendered just 16 points in the paint and trailed 17-15 in the rebounding battle in the second half. UW also held USC to just 1 of 7 on three-pointers in the game.
However, the Huskies fell behind by 15 points (56-41) with 9:24 remaining and never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“We pretty much was terrible in the second half,” Green said. “We didn’t do a good enough job like we did in the first half.”
Evan Mobley scored 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting, Isaiah Mobley had 12 points and 12 rebounds while Chevez Goodwin chipped in 11 points and Tahj Eaddy 10 for USC (16-3, 10-2 Pac-12).
Washington (3-15, 2-11) lost its fourth straight game and is tied with California for the fewest conference wins in the league.
The Huskies host UCLA at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We got to have a short memory,” Hopkins said. “We’ll be ready for UCLA.”