Jaylen Nowell (20 points) and Noah Dickerson (18 points and 10 rebounds) led a UW comeback in the second half for its fourth straight win against WSU.
PULLMAN — For the second straight game, the Huskies started slow and trailed by nine points at halftime on the road against a desperate Pac-12 opponent looking to improve its resume with a win against the conference leader.
But this time, Washington flipped the switch in the second half and rallied to capture a 72-70 win at Washington State on Saturday afternoon.
It was the fourth straight win for the Huskies (20-5, 11-1 Pac-12) against their cross-state rival and the victory moved UW tantalizing close to securing the conference regular-season title.
Here are three impressions from the game.
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TWO-PIECE COMBO RETURNS
Last season the Huskies won 21 games in large part because forward Noah Dickerson punished teams inside with his scoring and rebounding while Jaylen Nowell took over games at the end like a seasoned veteran.
Several other players have contributed to the winning formula this season, including David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle as well as Dominic Green and Nahziah Carter off the bench.
But on Saturday night, the Huskies relied heavily on Nowell (20 points on 8-for-16 shooting) and Dickerson (18 points on 7-for-8 shooting and 10 rebounds).
They accounted for 23 of UW’s 36 points in the second half and made all of the biggest shots in the final minutes.
Nowell put the Huskies up for good with a layup and free throw that gave them a 69-67 lead with 52 seconds left.
On the next possession, Dickerson had a putback to increase the lead to four points (71-67) and Nowell capped the scoring for UW with a free throw at the end.
The Huskies needed big performances from Nowell and Dickerson on a night when Crisp (3 of 12) and Thybulle (4 of 11) struggled shooting and the bench tallied just 11 points.
TWEAKS, TURNOVERS AND HALF-TIME ADJUSTMENTS
Washington’s defense was terrible in the first half.
That’s really the best way to sum up a performance in which the Huskies allowed the Cougars to shoot 59.3 percent (16 of 27) from the field and 50 percent (4 of 8) on three-pointers.
The Huskies fell behind by 14 points midway in the first half and they’re fortunate the deficit was not at least 20.
But upon closer examination, Washington may not have been as bad as the statistics suggest.
Consider UW held the Pac-12’s leading scorer, Robert Franks, who averaged 32.2 points in last week’s wins at Arizona and Arizona State, to four points in the first half.
And WSU’s second-leading scorer CJ Elleby had just three points.
But Marvin Cannon was killing the Huskies.
Who’s Marvin Cannon?
Nowell was a little unsure about WSU’s sophomore guard during postgame interviews and admitted the Huskies’ primary focus was stopping Franks and Elleby.
Meanwhile, Cannon had the game of his life and finished with a career-high 25 points, including three three-pointers, and eight rebounds.
In last season’s signature win — a 74-65 victory against No. 2 Kansas — Washington surrendered 28 points to Lagerald Vick while the five Jayhawk starters combined for 29 points.
Mike Hopkins didn’t like Cannon scoring so much, but the UW coach admitted the Huskies were successful in forcing the Cougars to search for alternative scoring options.
Franks finished with 16 points — 6 fewer than his average. Elleby had five points — his lowest since Nov. 24.
Hopkins also tweaked UW’s disruptive 2-3 zone and had Nowell and Green move up the court from their spots in the corner and challenge WSU players near the top of the key.
In the first half, Hopkins also used a lineup that included all backups — Sam Timmins, Jamal Bey, Elijah Hardy, Green and Carter — with mixed results.
And it must be noted that the Huskies committed just 10 turnovers, which was their fewest in eight games.
MAGIC NUMBER TIME
Perhaps sooner than anyone expected, the Huskies can clinch an outright Pac-12 regular-season title next week.
But they need help.
The Huskies would lock up the title if they win two games and Oregon State (8-4) loses two and Arizona State (8-5) loses one.
Next week Washington hosts Utah and Colorado.
Meanwhile, the Beavers travel to UCLA and USC and the Sun Devils are at home against Stanford and California.
Here’s a look at the scenarios in which the Huskies can secure a share of the Pac-12 title.
- Two UW wins and one OSU loss.
- A UW win vs. Utah, two losses by OSU and one loss by ASU.
- A UW win vs. Colorado, loss by Utah at Washington State, two losses by OSU and a loss by ASU.
Since the conference expanded to an 18-game schedule in 1978-79, the Huskies have won three regular-season titles, the most recent in 2011-12.