After an 8 year absence from the NCAA tournament the Washington Huskies decided that merely getting there wasn’t good enough. The Huskies used a late surge to put away #8 seed Utah State and secure a commanding 78-61 victory. Noah Dickerson (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Jaylen Nowell (19 points, 5 assists) led the Huskies on the offensive end while Matisse Thybulle played his usual phenomenal defense (5 steals, 3 blocks).
After a terrible offensive showing in the second half of the Pac-12 title game the Huskies picked up right where they left off in this one. The Huskies had 2 turnovers and were 0-2 from the floor including Noah Dickerson getting his shot blocked in the first 4 possessions and it helped Utah State get out to an 11-5 lead. The Aggies looked comfortable early passing at a quick pace to find open looks and outside of a few Matisse Thybulle blocks were knocking them down.
But the Huskies eventually found their footing on offense as Hameir Wright hit a corner 3 and Noah Dickerson started to get it going using Utah State’s aggression against them in the post. A 9-0 UW run put the Huskies up by 3 with 12:50 left in the first half.
Utah State had some success getting put backs off of offensive rebounds to keep things close but time after time the Washington defense was able to force turnovers. Meanwhile, the Huskies finally found their own rhythm on the offensive glass as Naz Carter and Noah Dickerson had put backs on consecutive possessions to put the Huskies back in front.
With 7:41 left in the 1st half Utah State’s star scorer Sam Merrill picked up his 2nd foul and was forced to the bench. Without him the Husky defense was able to be much more aggressive and things opened up for Washington. Matisse Thybulle took over after a poor offensive start and on consecutive possessions had a fantastic bounce pass assist for a Noah dunk, a 3-point basket, and a steal for a fast break flush. The dunk extended the Husky lead to 9 and forced a Utah State timeout.
Thybulle picked up his second foul with 1:30 left in the half and so Hop pulled him to be safe. On the ensuing possession the Huskies lost track of Utah State’s Brock Miller in the corner and he hit a 3-pointer to keep it within single digits. But the Huskies closed out the half with a Jaylen Nowell jumper and a Noah Dickerson dunk with 1 second left in the half to give the Dawgs a 40-28 lead.
Noah led all scorers with 14 points and 9 rebounds while Jaylen Nowell had 11 points and 3 assists. Utah State’s Sam Merrill was scoreless at the half while the Aggies had 11 turnovers.
Washington came out of the half once again with a lack of urgency. Utah State twice broke out of a trap for an open look at the rim (once fouled by Noah) and then got multiple put backs for a quick 5-0 run prompting a Hopkins timeout. Noah Dickerson missed his second attempt to open the half but Hameir Wright chased down the rebound and kicked it out for a Jaylen Nowell 3 and David Crisp also hit a transition 3 to extend the lead to a game high 13.
However, the dreaded momentum swing eventually came as Naz Carter attempted what would’ve been the dunk of the year but missed it as his arm was hit but no foul was called. Instead Utah State came back with numbers on the other end and hit a transition 3. Washington committed multiple careless turnovers and Sam Merrill finally hit a 3-pointer which brought the Aggies back to within 1 at 54-53 with 9:51 left in the game.
Naz Carter made up for that missed dunk though and refused to let the Huskies lose. He knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers with a steal on a lob dunk attempt in between plus split a pair of free throws to stretch the lead back out to 8.
Washington received a major scare when David Crisp was called for an offensive foul on a 3 on 1 fast break which was his 5th and knocked him out of the game. That became crucial because Utah State was forced to press and discovered they probably should’ve been doing it all along. The Huskies committed multiple careless turnovers but were generally able to recover and play solid defense as the lead never got within 6 points the rest of the way. And Washington shot 86% from the free throw line for the game to ensure that Utah State couldn’t possibly make a comeback.
The Huskies will play the winner of #1 seed North Carolina and #16 seed Iona (so North Carolina) on Sunday with the game time to be announced later tonight.
Double Bonus Dots
- Where has that version of Noah Dickerson been? The Washington big man scored just 15 total points in 3 games in the Pac-12 tournament. Tonight he had 20. This was a vintage Dickerson performance as he looked to have some explosiveness back finishing with a number of aggressive two-handed dunks in addition to his normal arsenal of post moves. When Noah plays like this it completely unlocks the Husky offense. Utah State doubled him instantly every time he got the ball trying to back his man down but they couldn’t deny him in the pick and roll or on offensive rebounds and that’s where he made his living. So happy for Noah that he had at least one more dominant showing before his UW career ended.
- Speaking of dominant performances from a senior, Matisse Thybulle was phenomenal on the defensive end. The one question mark with Utah State was if their stats were inflated by not playing against elite length and athleticism in the MWC. Matisse looked like Giannis compared to the Aggie players and finished with 5 steals and 3 blocks despite not getting credited with several other deflections that led to turnovers. He had some rough moments on the offensive end with 4 turnovers but knocked down a pair of 3’s, had 2 dunks, and a really nice assist.
- The Huskies were going to need one of their bench players to step up and Naz Carter answered the call. He finished with 13 points and 4 assists and was the singular reason the Huskies pulled away in the 2nd half. The offensive performance was great but he also was superb on defense with 1 block and 1 steal.
- When David Crisp fouled out, Coach Hop relied on Jamal Bey rather than Dominic Green to close out the game. Bey was one of the few bright spots in the loss to Oregon and he played good defense over the final 6+ minutes. He drove to the hoop and put up a wild prayer of a floater but luckily it went in. Bey finished with 2 points and 3 rebounds and is looking like he’ll be a huge piece for Washington next season.
- We all knew the Achilles heel of this team was their press break offense and it almost killed them yet again. But even with David Crisp fouled out the Huskies played well enough on defense to allow their inability to get the ball across half court doom them. Washington better hope North Carolina with their athletes doesn’t try it on Sunday.
- Sam Merrill entered the game averaging 21 points for Utah State. He finished with just 10 on 2/9 shooting. Give the Huskies a lot of credit for executing their gameplan of forcing anyone but Merrill to beat them. It turns out none of them could.
- This was UW’s first tournament win since a 68-65 victory over Georgia in 2011.
- It was the first NCAA tournament double double by a UW player since Quincy Pondexter over Marquette in 2010.
- I’m just so happy for this group of seniors to get an NCAA tournament win before ending their careers. This was a special group and Noah, Dominic, David, and Matisse earned every second of joy from this win.
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