Jaylen Nowell's three free throws in final seconds after Payton Pritchard foul lift Huskies to eighth straight victory and 6-0 Pac-12 start.
EUGENE, Ore. – Perhaps fittingly, a defensive slugfest between the Pac-12’s best two defensive teams was decided by – what else? – a defensive play on the game’s most critical possession.
There was also a questionable foul – depending on your point of view – in the final two seconds.
And when it over, the Huskies were fortunate to prevail 61-56 at Oregon for their eighth straight win.
“Never in doubt,” Hall of Famer Bill Walton said smiling after providing analysis for the ESPN2 telecast.
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But in reality, Thursday’s game, which included two big momentum swings in the final three minutes, wasn’t decided until Jaylen Nowell sank three free throws with 1.6 seconds left.
It was an anti-climactic finish in a game that had the Huskies (15-4, 6-0 Pac-12) relieved and the Ducks (11-8, 2-4) grumbling about the officiating afterward.
Before Nowell’s free throws, Oregon had possession with 19 seconds left and the score tied at 56.
UW’s defensive ace Matisse Thybulle forced Ducks guard Payton Pritchard into a turnover and Nowell picked up the loose ball before sprinting in the opposite direction.
As the clock ticked down, Nowell launched a 35-foot desperation three-pointer and drew a foul from Pritchard, who sailed past him to contest the shot.
“Matisse Thybulle locked Payton up,” Nowell said. “When he dribbled, he couldn’t get around him and lost the ball. When I saw the ball rolling on the ground, I just took it and made sure I got a shot up.
“When he jumped past me, he grabbed my arm. Luckily the refs called it at that point and time and I was able to hit the three free throws.”
Nowell, who finished with a game-high 20 points, sank three free throws in the frenetic comeback.
Washington, which trailed 56-51 with 2:33 left, closed the game with a 10-0 run. Nowell scored eight points during the spurt.
“First off, this is a bad, I wish I could say it, but this is a bad boy,” said David Crisp, who had 18 points and four three-pointers. “This is a bad boy. I’ve seen him since he was in the eighth grade. … He’s one of the clutchest players I’ve played with and one of the clutchest that I’ve seen.
“Him at the line, it was a no-brainer. It was ballgame.”
Before Nowell’s heroics, Washington squandered a 12-point early in the second half and fell apart offensively for long stretches due to Oregon’s full-court press.
Both teams committed 19 turnovers and had 10 steals, but UW’s miscues were nearly fatal.
“It was two great defensive teams,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “They play their zone. We play ours. They press a little bit more. We got a steal down the stretch to win the game. Our activity was really, really good.
“When things weren’t going great, we got really, really gritty. We got really gritty down the stretch especially on the defensive end. I got to hand it to our guys, they showed a lot of toughness tonight.”
It figured to be a low-scoring affair considering Oregon entered the game first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (64.9 points per game) and Washington was second (65.0).
Washington led 13-2 early and was up 27-19 at halftime. The Huskies increased its lead to 40-28 with 15:07 left when Oregon seized control with a fullcourt press that stymied UW’s offense.
“Momentum just shifted,” Hopkins said. “They got the crowd in it. They were all over the place. We only had a certain number of timeouts and we were trying to breathe for air. Hoping that the guys can show poise and composure. They had it rocking in there. They took that lead. Saying relax and making sure we had guys in the right spots for the press break.
“When they were up five, that’s when we started attacking their pressure. … We got stops down the stretch, which was huge. Never in doubt? I don’t believe that. We’re just going from one possession to the next. And we’re blessed and happy that we got that call down the stretch and Jaylen made the foul shots.”
Following a 14-0 run that gave Oregon a 56-51 lead, Crisp gathered the team during a timeout and said: “It’s going to take everything we got.”
Nowell sank a layup and knocked down a three-pointer to tie it at 56. Both teams missed three-pointers before Pritchard’s final turnover.
The Oregon junior guard compounded the mistake with a foul at the other end that the Ducks disputed.
“I felt like during that situation, it’s a tie game, just let the kids play, basically,” said Oregon freshman guard Louis King, who had 19 points. “ I didn’t think he fouled him. He was just trying to contest the shot and unfortunately, the ref called the foul.”
Replays appeared to show Pritchard didn’t hit Nowell on the hands or elbow, but brushed his knee, which knocked the UW guard off balance and sent his shot sailing over the backboard.
“I watched the play from a lot of different angles,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “It was just a tough call.”
Washington snapped a six-game losing streak against the Ducks and captured its first win at Matthew Knight Arena. UW was winless in its previous seven trips to Eugene, Ore.
“I’ve never beaten these guys so it feels fantastic,” Crisp said. “We’ve been rewriting history a little bit.”
During its last road trip, Washington snapped a five-game losing streak at Utah, which gave the UW seniors its first win over the Utes. The Huskies also won at Colorado for its first conference road sweep in six years.
Washington, which plays at Oregon State on Saturday, can pick up its fourth ever Pac-12 road sweep with a win against the Beavers.