Defensive play decides the game Wednesday night in which the Huskies shut down the Utes in the second half for a 62-45 victory.
Matisse Thybulle knows that look of frustration. David Crisp too.
They saw it on the faces of the Utah Utes who went nearly 16 minutes without a field goal during a slugfest of a basketball game that Washington won 62-45 on Wednesday night in front of 8,268 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“We can feel it,” said Thybulle who finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, six steals and four blocks. “We can all feel it as a team. You just know when they reach a point where they just don’t know what to do anymore.
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“I don’t know about these guys, but I didn’t eve know they went that long without scoring. We were just so locked in defensively. Then we poked our heads above water and we realized what we had done and it was incredible.”
Utah didn’t score a field goal in the final 4:38 in the first half and the Utes first basket in the second half came with 8:50 left in the game.
During the Utes’ drought that spanned 15 minutes and 48 seconds, Washington used a 24-4 momentum-shifting run that turned a 25-22 deficit into a 46-29 lead.
“It’s a lot of fun when you can hang your hat on something, and something that’s really, really good,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “Most importantly, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It’s when you think it’s really good and you have that belief.
“Guys can understand it and you can make adjustments. That’s when you’re different.”
Within their 2-3 zone, the Huskies swarmed like bees, turned 18 turnovers into 17 points and reduced the high-scoring Utes into an exasperated team that looked as if it was trying to solve a Rubik Cube while blindfolded with one hand tied behind its back.
“It feels really good knowing guys are like ‘Man, this zone. We got to come back and try to score on this again.’” said David Crisp, who tallied 10 points and five assists. “They’re trying everything that they can do and we’re taking everything away. You can see how frustrated they are. You can see the starting to splinter off and not really being together and starting to argue with each other.
“It makes our confidence on defense grow even more. Guys start working even harder and the crowd starts getting into it. Then you see guys flying around. Guys talking. Active hands. When we’re playing like that, we’re at our best.”
The Huskies were at their destructive best in the second half when they held the Utes to just 18 points and 25 percent shooting (5 of 20) from the floor.
Utah, which finished 31 points fewer than its scoring average, never got closer than 14 points in the final nine minutes.
“In the second half, I think it was one of the best 16 or 17 minutes of defense that we played all season,” Hopkins said. “We were active. We were talking. We were aware. And most importantly, we finished with the rebound.”
Washington won the rebounding battle 39-35 and enjoyed a 23-12 disparity in the second half after the Utes controlled the glass 23-16 in the first half when nearly everything went their way early on.
For the third straight game Washington started slow, fell behind by double-digits and trailed 17-7 in the opening minutes.
Utes guard Sedrick Barefield gave the Huskies fits at the start and scored all of his 12 points in the first half.
“That was my bad,” Thybulle said. “Those 12 points were shots made on me. I had to knuckle down and bear down and stick to the scout.”
Crisp added: “He made up for it with four blocks and six steals.”
Utah led for more than 15 minutes before the break, but the tide be began to turn as the Huskies made a 13-3 run capped by a Thybulle’s three-pointer that tied the score at 20-20 with 6:12 left.
Dominic Green capped the first-half scoring with a three-pointer at the buzzer that gave Washington a 33-27 halftime lead.
The second half was all Washington, which outscored Utah 29-18.
Barefield, who was 0-for-3 shooting and scoreless in the second half, typified Utah’s struggles. No one else scored in double figures for the Utes, who fell to 14-12 and 8-6 in Pac-12.
“We don’t a team’s best player beat us,” Crisp said. “It’s simple. Try to take the head of the snake out of the game. Once you do that, you try to make the other guys beat you.
“A lot times teams aren’t too successful playing that way.”
Meanwhile, Washington received a balanced attack led by Nahziah Carter who tallied 12 points. Noah Dickerson added 11 points and Jaylen Nowell had 10 points and eight rebounds.
“It wasn’t a great offensive game for the most part and you got to credit Utah,” Hopkins said. “But we kept telling our guys this is a defensive game. Offensively, run our stuff. Share the ball.
“Defensively, that’s where they had to be great. And they were.”
Washington, which remained a perfect 13-0 at home, improved to 21-5 and 12-1 in the Pac-12.
The Huskies are two wins away from clinching its first Pac-12 regular-season title since 2012.
“Who cares,” Thybulle said when asked about the conference championship. “It’s one game at a time. We’re just trying to win them all.”
Still, Hopkins has been impressed with how Washington has handled the pressure that comes with being the top team in the league.
“We’re learning how to have a target on our backs,” he said. “These new areas of uncharted territory. We’re in the boat trying to find America. What I reaize is we got to focus on playing together, understanding our defense and executing our game plan. If we can do that. We can beat anybody. But we also proven that we can lose to anybody.”