Jaylen Nowell took over right when Washington needed him the most.
With 1:35 remaining on Sunday night, the Huskies were tied 60-60 with the University of California Santa Barbara. Enter Nowell, who scored four straight points to put UW back in the lead and lead it to a 67-63 victory at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Right after UCSB’s Jay Nagle went 1-for-2 at the foul line to tie the score, Nowell knocked down a jumper to give the Huskies a two-point advantage. He was fouled on the shot, but missed the free throw.
Nowell then grabbed a defensive rebound on the Gauchos’ ensuing possession and was fouled shooting a jumper at the other end. This time, he went 2-for-2 at the line to give UW a 64-60 advantage with 29 seconds remaining.
That gave the Huskies just the cushion they needed. They went 3-for-4 from the line down the stretch to hold off UCSB and earn the win.
“We go through spurts where it’s hot and cold,” said head coach Mike Hopkins. “We just can’t seem to keeps stretching it out. There’s a turnover here, a turnover there. Self-inflicted wounds.”
UW led throughout the first half. The Huskies didn’t surrender its advantage until UCSB’s Amadou Snow went 1-for-2 from the free throw line to put the Gauchos ahead 37-36 with 11:47 remaining.
After that, the teams went back-and-forth for the remainder of the game. The Huskies struggled with scoring droughts all night, not scoring for five or six minutes at a time.
It’s an issue that has plagued UW all season, and it’s one Matisse Thybulle said the Huskies are very much aware of.
“Something that we realize we have to work on is just being more consistent with our energy and closing out games,” he said. “Not at the end of the game, but when we get that lead just staying with it and keeping our foot on the gas so they can’t get back into it.”
Noah Dickerson said fixing that issue starts on the defensive end. When the Huskies were locked in on defense against UCSB, they started scoring. That was most evident right after the Gauchos claimed a one point lead with 11:47 left in the game.
Less than 40 seconds after UW fell behind, Thybulle gave it the lead back by draining a 3-pointer from the right wing. After the Huskies got a stop at the other end, Nowell grabbed a rebound and started a fast break that led to another Thybulle 3-pointer and a 42-37 advantage.
“For the most part, you were seeing when we were playing defense everybody was scoring, especially at the end of the game,” Dickerson said.
“We kind of let us affect us a little bit but we just need to start making sure if we can’t, play some defense, we’ll start making some easy ones. … Defense jump starts our offense.”
Thybulle wouldn’t go so far as to say the Huskies aren’t phased by their offensive droughts. Every basketball player wants to make shots, he said. But it helps that the Huskies know their defense can keep them in the game.
“Most of the time, we don’t know we’re in a scoring drought until they call timeout and they tell us,” Dickerson said. “Because it’s open shots. If it’s open, shoot it. They’re going to start falling eventually.”
Nowell finished with 17 points, four rebounds and five assists. Noah Dickerson had 22 points and eight rebounds, while Matisse Thybulle added 13 points and six steals. Thybulle fouled out with 14:14 remaining.
The Huskies next game is a big one: A road match-up with No. 1 Gonzaga.
“(Gonzaga is) fun to watch, as a basketball fan,” Hopkins said. “They attack. They’re aggressive. We’re going to have to have our A-game.”