UW coach Mike Hopkins on the exhibition win over Seattle Pacific
Forward Matisse Thybulle smiled, a little wryly, and shook his head at the question. Beside him, teammate Jaylen Nowell’s expression offered the same wordless response.
No, No. 25 Washington wasn’t content with its performance on Thursday night just because it got a win. The 70-61 victory over Division II Seattle Pacific didn’t offer many positives to be happy about.
Coming into the game, the Huskies goals were simple: Play hard, get out in transition, bring energy. Afterward, they couldn’t check much of anything off that list.
Eventually, Thybulle settled on something UW could take out of the game.
“It’s a learning experience,” he said.
Head coach Mike Hopkins echoed Thybulle’s assessment when he addressed the media minutes later.
First, Hopkins listed all struggles, the mistakes. The extra pass wasn’t there. Open players were missed, and so were layups. Even the free throw line — the Huskies went 21-for-32 — didn’t treat UW well.
And then Hopkins said the only thing left to say: “Thank God it happened in a preseason exhibition game.”
At the beginning of the night, it seemed like the post-game press conference would go differently. The Huskies opened on an 11-0 run, and Hopkins said it was about as well as he’d seen his team start a game.
Then came a scoring drought that lasted from the 13:33 mark to Matisse Thybulle’s 3-pointer with 7:01 remaining in the first half. By the that point, Seattle Pacific had rattled off 15 straight points.
Even after Thybulle finally hit a 3-pointer for UW, the Falcons had built 21-18 lead. They went into halftime with a 27-26 advantage.
“This is going to be something that stays with us for the rest of the season,” said Thybulle, who finished with seven points, seven rebounds and a game-high eight steals.
“We’re going to stop ourselves. The only thing that can get in our way is ourselves. I think that today we didn’t really bring the proper energy and respect for this time so we didn’t come out ready to just take them out from the jump. That’s going to be what holds us back this year if we can’t get past that.”
Turnovers were the biggest culprit during UW’s first-half scoring drought. By halftime, the Huskies had 13 turnovers and just three assists. They finished with 19 turnovers and six assists.
The Falcons took advantage, scoring 21 points off those turnovers, including 15 in the first half. After their initial surge, Nowell said the Huskies played unfocused, and that was a major factor in the number of turnovers.
“That’s one of the main things that goes into turnovers: not being focused and communication as well,” Nowell said. “That’s really what was the deal, what was going on throughout (Seattle Pacific’s) run.”
UW came out strong after the break, starting the second half on an 11-2 run to pull ahead 37-29. But, once again, the Huskies dropped off after they gained the lead and let the Falcons back into the game.
With 9:09 remaining, Seattle Pacific was leading 47-46. That’s when the Huskies went on another 13-2 scoring streak. And this time, they pulled away for good.
Nowell led the Huskies with 23 points and six rebounds, while David Crisp added 20 points and three rebounds.
In its first exhibition game, UW defeated No. 7 Nevada 91-73. Hopkins hesitated to say the Huskies played to the level of competition. Instead, he pointed to the teams’ different tempos. Nevada was “in your face trying to deny and pressure” while Seattle Pacific was content to stay back and take time off the clock.
UW, he said, has to be able to adjust. Against the Wolf Pack, the Huskies showed they could play against a top team and win. On Thursday, they showed their vulnerability.
“Didn’t have good rhythm, there wasn’t a great energy,” Hopkins said. “We started off the game well. We had spurts. It just wasn’t consistent.
“A little bit like last year. We would get 12-point leads, 16-point leads, make a bad play, make a bad turnover, do this and then the other team makes a run. We got to do better than that. We got to learn when you got a lead to be able to put teams away.”
If the game the learning experience Thybulle described, that will be its biggest lesson.
“There’s really a lot of things that we didn’t do,” Thybulle said. “It came down to play with energy. Our goal is to come out here and play hard and if we got up to keep our foot on the gas and we didn’t do any of that.”