Washington missed 13 of its first 15 shots against California on Saturday. The Huskies didn’t make their first field goal until the 15:27 mark of the first half. It then took more than seven minutes for them to make another.
And yet somehow, UW (14-4, 5-0 Pac-12) went into halftime with a 29-28 lead. The Huskies ended the first half on a 17-5 run, holding the Golden Bears (5-13, 0-6) to just three points over the final 3 minutes and 53 seconds.
That stretch, and the one-point lead at halftime, shifted the momentum in UW’s favor. The Huskies never trailed in the second half, defeating Cal 71-52 to earn the 1,000th victory at Alaska Airlines Arena. It was their seventh straight victory and at 5-0, they’re now off to their best Pac-12 start since the 1983-84 season.
For the majority of the first half, senior Dominic Green said UW lacked energy. It showed as Cal built its advantage, pulling ahead by as many as 11 points.
“We were playing down,” Green said. “We weren’t fully engaged so it took us a little while to get the oil in the car running, get it warm.”
If UW needed warmup period, it was over by the time it took the floor for the second half. The Huskies shot 60.9 percent after the break while holding Cal to 22.6 percent, including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.
“We got into halftime and we just talked about we didn’t have a lot of energy in the beginning of the game and we had to really come out,” said head coach Mike Hopkins. “It was a great opportunity to show people what we got.
“The cool thing about experience is we’ve been in these situations before where we’ve actually been down nine. So just calm the ship down and get them believing and understanding what we had to do, how we had to execute.”
The crowd sensed an opportunity early in UW’s first half run. The fans climbed to their feet as soon as David Crisp hit a 3-pointer to cut Cal’s advantage to 23-16 with 5:06 left in the first half. The Huskies then forced a shot clock violation at the other end before Green made a 3-pointer to pull them within four points, 23-19.
Green, who had 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field, would hit two more 3-pointers during that pivotal stretch.
“I was taking what they gave me,” Green said. “(My teammates) did a great job finding me and it was just wide open so I was like, might as well make one.”
Said Hopkins: “(Green) comes in and hits two or three and changes the game. I’m so proud because I think he’s one of the best snipers in the country. He’s a heck of a weapon.”
Matisse Thybulle opened the second half with a 3-pointer that pushed the Huskies’ lead to 32-28. Thybulle then blocked a shot at the other end to give UW the ball back. After Jaylen Nowell hit a jumper, the Huskies were ahead 34-28.
Thybulle said defensive consistency was the biggest difference for UW in the second half. Hopkins often emphasizes the importance of 3-point defense and the Huskies have answered that call in conference play. Through five games, Pac-12 opponents are shooting just 26.4 percent (27-of-102) from beyond the arc against the Huskies. Cal finished 1-for-15.
“We started to get back, get set and finish off plays with rebounds,” said Thybulle, who had 13 points, five blocks and two steals. “They say don’t let offense affect defense but if you can’t score, other teams struggle on defense. We take pride on being able to stop guys on offense because it makes our lives even easier when we get on offense.”
UW’s offense was stagnant in the first half, Hopkins said, which led to nine turnovers. The Huskies finished with 18 turnovers and 12 assists.
“When you’re not thinking or not in the flow you have a tendency to turn it over,” Hopkins said. “I thought our turnovers were really bad ones. It’s not, like, aggressive where you might get a charge. … We did that a few times but we settled down. The key was just settling down and just executing our game plan.”
UW first pulled ahead by double figures, 47-35, on a Crisp 3-pointer with 13:23 remaining. Crisp is shooting 57.7 percent (15-of-26) from the 3-point line in conference games. Against Cal, he finished with 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
Nowell also reached double figures with 12 points. Noah Dickerson didn’t have his best game from the floor, going 1-for-3, but he drew 13 fouls and shot 10-of-15 from the foul line. He finished with a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“A lot of teams don’t have answers for him down there so they just double-team him,” Green said. “That opens up the 3-point shooting. He does a lot for us.”
The Huskies will now head back on the road to face Oregon on Thursday and Oregon State on Saturday.
“We got swept last year (in Oregon),” Hopkins said. “It will be a great opportunity against two really good teams to go down there and see what we got.”