LAS VEGAS — Dominic Green’s dagger three-pointer or Matisse Thybulle’s game-clinching, windmill dunk?
Inside a cramped locker room at the T-Mobile Arena, the top-seed Huskies laughed and joked while debating which was sweeter after their thrilling 78-75 victory over No. 8 USC in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals.
Of course, there wasn’t a wrong answer.
“Dom’s three was amazing,” Thybulle said. “That’s what he does. He hits big shots. He’s done it for us before and tonight was no different.”
Green added: “We see steals from Matisse all the time. He’s the best at it. But we don’t see dunks like that from him. That was something extra special.”
Then Jaylen Nowell chimed in:
“I’ve never seen Tisse windmill like that in my life. I promise you. I didn’t know he could do that. He pulled something out. That’s what you got to do. Pac-12 (tournament). He knows how to put on a show.”
The Huskies needed the late-game heroics after USC trimmed their 10-point lead with 7:57 left to one with 70 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing possession, the shot clock nearly expired before David Crisp penetrated and dished outside to Green who drained a three-pointer in the corner that was reminiscent of the game-winner he hit two years ago to beat No. 9 Arizona.
“The Arizona feeling is one that I don’t think you can recreate at all,” Green said. “But it was definitely a big-time shot for where we are right now. Hopefully, we knock some more down and keep it going.”
Green’s shot gave UW a 75-71 lead with 37 seconds left, which was enough still time for USC to make things interesting.
Thybulle, the two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year, effectively ended the game when he intercepted a Derryck Thornton pass intended for Jonah Matthews.
The mild-mannered Thybulle momentarily broke from character and finished the fast break with a crowd-pleasing windmill dunk that brought the UW bench to its feet.
“I feel like guys are always chasing me down on my fast breaks,” said Thybulle, who had five steals, four points and four rebounds. “I said if no one was there, I was going to windmill. That was my opportunity so I had to take it.
“I was angry. … I was frustrated. I’d been missing shots. I was tired of seeing them hitting shots, and I was going to send a message.”
In fact, the Huskies put the rest of the conference on notice. And they might have sent a statement to the Selection Committee as well.
“Everybody has been kind of discrediting us,” said Crisp, who had 18 points, six assists, two steals and three three-pointers. “Discrediting our work and discrediting everything that we accomplished.
“We hear what everybody says, but we got the same mindset just to get better every single day. We play our best when we have a chip on our shoulder.”
Washington entered the postseason dogged by questions and a fair amount of skepticism.
Would the Huskies regain the momentum that propelled them to a Pac-12 regular-season championship or would they continue a late-season swoon?
The purple-clad fans who journeyed to Las Vegas didn’t know for sure which UW team would show up at T-Mobile Arena. The offensively balanced, defensive-oriented squad that won 15 of 16 games midway through the season, or the inconsistent, infuriating bunch that lost two of its past four games?
In toppling the Trojans to advance to Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinal against fifth-seeded Colorado (21-11), the Huskies (25-7) played their best game in weeks.
“We really wanted to come out and prove why we’re No. 1 because everybody is going to give us their best shot,” Nowell said.
The same is true for the Nowell, who scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds in his first outing since winning the Pac-12 player the year award.
“Being No. 1 or being recognized for anything, they’re going to come at you with their best,” said Nowell, who converted 4 of 4 three-point attempts and was 8 of 13 from the field. “We all love the challenge.”
Washington rebounded from its worst offensive performance in its previous game when it tallied a season-low 47 points. Against an aggressive USC defense, UW hit 13 three-pointers and dished out 19 assists – both season highs.
“We’ve got an offensive arsenal,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “When we share the ball like we did tonight, the ball was moving. The ball was popping. … We can beat anybody and I think that’s the biggest key.”
The Huskies came out hot in the first half while hitting 9 of 18 three-pointers.
When Washington scored inside it was either on second-chance opportunities or in transition, including Crisp’s alley-oop pass to Nahziah Carter for an acrobatic fast-break dunk that gave UW a 37-26 lead with 4:25 left in the first half.
Carter finished 13 points and Green had nine points and three three-pointers off the bench.
The Huskies tallied 19 assists on 29 field goals and forced 17 turnovers in a game that included several physical confrontations and trash talking throughout the contest.
Most of the verbal sparring was between Crisp, Thybulle and Carter, who each exchanged heated words with Thornton.
“First play of the game I bring the ball up, and he starts talking smack and I’m like ‘OK, alright,’ ” Crisp. “I can reciprocate that energy. I was born in that type of environment. … You’re either going to fold or you’re going to step up to the challenge.
“I kept telling him, I’m going to be here all night. I’m not backing down. I’m not going nowhere. I’m going to keep coming and keep coming.”
USC didn’t back down either.
Because Washington missed three of its final four free throws in the final seven seconds, the Trojans had a chance to force overtime at the end.
Ahead by three points, the Huskies harassed Nick Rakocevic into a throw that sailed out of bounds with three seconds left.
Kevin Porter Jr., Jonah Matthews and Rakocevic each scored 17 points and Bennie Boatwright had 16 for the Trojans, which likely saw their season end at 17-16.
“The last couple of minutes was kind of a microcosm of our season,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We’re good enough and talented enough to compete. Our players play hard. But our margin of error is so small that those crucial moments, whether it’s a turnover, defensive stop, made shot, free throw or last second shot haven’t gone our way this year.”
Meanwhile, Washington is one win away from playing for its first conference title since 2011.
“We just did what we were supposed to do,” Crisp said. “Get a win and continue on to the next game. At this time of the year … it’s survive and advance.”
- With five steals, Thybulle moved past California’s Jason Kidd and became the Pac-12 single-season steals leader with 115. Thybulle needs two steals to eclipse Oregon State’s Gary Payton for the conference’s career record of 321.
- On Thursday, Thybulle was named a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award. The others include: Duke’s Zion Williamson, Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke and Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter.