Historically, shootouts don’t favor the Huskies.
Since coach Mike Hopkins took over four years ago, the Washington men’s basketball team is 12-22 and 1-8 this season when allowing at least 75 points.
If Hopkins had his druthers, UW would limit opponents to fewer than 65 points with a three-point-denying and ball-hawking zone defense that had been one of the best in the Pac-12 a few years ago.
However, this season the Huskies have been forced to rely on a resurgent offensive attack to offset a floundering defense that ranks near the bottom of the conference in every meaningful statistic.
On Sunday, Washington traded baskets with Utah for 38 minutes before pulling away at the end for a thrilling 83-79 victory at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“Every time we huddled we said we need a stop,” Jamal Bey said during a postgame interview via Zoom. “We did what we needed to do at the end to win the game.”
No one helped the Huskies as much as Bey, who played the best game of his UW career while tallying a career-high 28 points, five rebounds and four steals in 39 minutes.
“I’ve never been this efficient,” said the junior guard, who converted 10 of 11 field goals, including 4 of 4 on three-pointers. “My teammates were finding me. Every shot I put up pretty much felt good. So it’s like, OK if I’m open, then I’m going to shoot it. And it was helping our team and that’s why I kept doing it.”
Bey canned his first seven shots — three three-pointers, two layups and a midrange floater — before missing a contested baseline jumper early in the second half.
“I thought I got fouled,” he said smiling. “The ref didn’t see it the same way. But it’s cool. I’m not tripping off the miss. We won. That’s all that matters to me.”
It was the second straight win for Washington (3-11, 2-7 Pac-12), which began the season with the worst start in program history since 1953.
The Huskies have seemingly pulled out of their early season nosedive with an offensive attack in which a member of the backcourt has taken turns in the spotlight.
Bey was the unquestionable star Sunday, but Washington wouldn’t have won without notable contributions from Quade Green (20 points, four rebounds and four assists) and Erik Stevenson (18 points and four rebounds) who both had shining moments when it mattered most.
“It’s been a different guy every night,” Hopkins said.
The Huskies initially ran into trouble when the Utes went on a 16-2 run, which included 11 unanswered points, for a 32-20 lead with six minutes left in the first half.
Washington answered with a 21-9 run capped by Bey’s three-pointer that tied the score at 41-41 in the final minute of the first half.
Green, who connected on 7 of 14 shots and four three-pointers, scored 15 points in a second half in which neither team led by more than six points.
Trailing 59-53, Washington went on an 8-2 run that ended with Bey draining another three-pointer to pull even at 61-61 with 11:12 remaining.
During the final 10 minutes, the lead changed three times and the score was tied twice.
The Huskies were down 79-76 with 1:39 left before closing the game with a decisive 7-0 run that began with Bey’s long jumper to cut UW’s deficit to 1.
On the ensuing possession, Stevenson collected a steal to start a fast break in which he plowed through two defenders for a go-ahead layup despite being fouled.
Stevenson drained the free throw to put Washington up 81-79 with 50 seconds on the clock.
On the next trip, Bey sealed the victory with the Huskies’ ninth steal that led to a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left.
“Jamal was just spectacular,” Hopkins said. “And it wasn’t just necessarily his scoring. He had a huge steal late in the game. He had four steals (total). That’s Jamal Bey. He’s a disruptor to the other team on the offensive and defensive end.”
Still, Utah shot 50.8% on field goals while Washington was at 50.9%, including 12 of 24 on three-pointers.
Utah center Branden Carlson scored 18 points, while Timmy Allen flirted with a triple-double and finished with 15 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.
The Utes (6-7, 3-6) also received 15 points from Riley Battin while Alfonso Plummer had 13.
“If we want to become a great team, we’ve got to become a better defensive team,” Hopkins said. “That’s the bottom line. The offense is playing well right now. We’ve got a lot of confidence. We simplified a lot of things. We’ve got a lot of guys that can really help us on the offensive end.”
Washington heads into next Sunday’s game against cross-state rival Washington State with momentum and it’s first winning streak of the season.
“We were high when we came into the locker room cheering and yelling because it’s been tough for us at the beginning of the season,” Bey said. “But after the UCLA game (last week), we said it’s a fresh start for us. It’s a clean slate. Our record is 0-0 in our head going out on the court and that’s what we’ve been showing.”