The Huskies unleashed more than month’s worth of frustration while putting together their most dominant performance of the season.
They harassed, hassled and harried California with a disruptive defensive attack that left the Golden Bears bewildered and befuddled to the delight of the crowd of 8,873 at Alaska Airlines Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Washington contested every pass, challenged every shot and doggedly pursued every loose ball, which resulted in an 87-52 blowout victory and a long-awaited postgame celebration.
“It feels good,” said Nahziah Carter, who scored a game-high 16 points. “We’re really excited right now, but we’ve got a lot more to do.
“We never gave up the faith and we still believe that we can do good things.”
Of course, UW’s nine-game losing streak, which tied for the second longest in school history, would end this way.
The Huskies have said all season they could beat anyone when at their best and for the first time in 5½ weeks, they brought their ‘A’ game against a slumping Bears team (11-16, 5-9 Pac-12) that had lost four of its previous five contests.
In their previous meeting, Matt Bradley torched Washington with 17 points, including a game-winning three-pointer with nine seconds left that gave the Bears a 61-58 overtime win at Haas Pavilion on Jan. 11.
This time, the Huskies were determined to make Bradley, Cal’s leading scorer who averaged 17.6 points, a nonfactor. He finished with a team-high 14 points, but shot 3 of 11 from the field and committed four turnovers.
“We keyed in on a great player in Matt Bradley,” Carter said. “He really has to be very good for them to win games.”
Without Bradley making shots, the Bears had nowhere to turn and no other Cal player scored more than seven points.
The Bears shot a season-low 23.9% and converted just 2 of 13 three-pointers, which tied for the fewest for a UW opponent this season. Cal also scored just 26 points in each half.
The Huskies hadn’t been this good defensively since beating USC 72-40 on Jan. 5.
“It’s been really inconsistent a lot this year,” coach Mike Hopkins said when asked about UW’s defense. “But we really locked in. We were really active. Guys did a really good job of being focused and aware of what we were trying to do. And they executed it.”
Carter scored nine of the first 11 points for Washington, which could have put the game away much earlier if not for a propensity to commit fouls and turnovers at the start.
The Huskies held Cal to 4-of-21 shooting on field goals in the first half, which forced the Golden Bears to rely on a 16-for-16 performance at the free-throw line for its offense.
Washington’s sloppy ball-handling and erratic defense allowed Cal to build a 17-11 lead after D.J. Thorpe flushed a dunk with 11:33 remaining in the first half.
That’s when UW’s defense took over and didn’t allow the Bears another field goal until the 16:20 mark in the second half.
During Cal’s 14-minute drought between field goals, Washington went on a mesmerizing 43-11 run.
“We forced them to miss a lot of shots,” Hopkins said succinctly.
The Huskies led 43-26 at the break, but they were still a little antsy in the locker room because they’d blown five halftime leads during their losing streak.
“We kept saying to each other that it’s not going to happen again,” Isaiah Stewart said. “We came out from the start to finish the game.”
Freshman guard Marcus Tsohonis opened the second half with three straight three-pointers to give UW a 52-26 lead and essentially seal the win.
At that point, the Golden Bears had converted just 4 of 25 on field goals.
Soon after, Cal coach Mark Fox and Andre Kelly picked up technical fouls while barking at the officials in a surprisingly physical game that included a combined 62 free-throw attempts, 42 fouls and four technicals.
Early in the first half, Hopkins collected a technical foul for stepping on the court and Jaden McDaniels was given a dead ball technical, his sixth this season, midway through the second half.
It was the only blemish in an otherwise productive outing for UW’s freshman forward who finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 21 minutes off the bench.
Stewart, who did most of his damage in the second half, scored 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the field while Tsohonis added 11 points.
“It was one of the best team efforts across the board,” Hopkins said. “Hameir Wright hitting threes. Jamal Bey didn’t score, but his defense was incredible and the way he helped move the ball was great.
“Jaden McDaniels in the first half with five assists and 10 points. He was sharing it. We were moving it. Just really proud of our guys.”
The 35-point margin of victory was the largest of the season for the Huskies, which allowed them to empty the bench in the final minutes.
“Whenever you lose it can be difficult,” said Hopkins, who got emotional during the postgame interview. “And the support that we got from the Dawg Pack and our fans is huge.
“It shows you what this place can be and is going to be. So thank you fans out there. Go Dawgs!”
The Huskies (13-15, 3-12) have three regular-season games remaining, including their home finale against Washington State on Friday.
“We expect to win every game we play,” Hopkins said. “We’ve got a big one coming up next week (vs. WSU) and then a big week following that (at Arizona and Arizona State). And then Vegas.
“We’ve got a lot to prove. This is just the first step at getting better.”