Washington just needed to slow down.
UW (18-4, 9-0 Pac-12) knew early in its 69-55 victory over UCLA that the pace was too fast. The Huskies were pushing the ball, trying — and often failing — to break UCLA’s full-court press. It didn’t help that they were feeding off the excitement pulsating from the sold-out crowd inside Alaska Airlines Arena. They didn’t handle the energy well for most of the first half. It made their play erratic, sloppy.
The Bruins (12-10, 5-4) didn’t fair much better. The teams combined for 29 turnovers in the first half, and nine of them happened in the first five minutes alone.
“We had I don’t even know how many turnovers back-to-back-to-back,” said UW point guard David Crisp. “Everything was just happening so fast.”
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The Huskies had 11 turnovers in the first half. UCLA had 18. But it was the Bruins who took advantage early, scoring 10 points off UW’s first seven turnovers. And it was the Bruins, too, who grabbed the first lead.
After a Prince Ali 3-pointer gave UCLA a 12-4 advantage with 15:48 left in the first half, Husky head coach Mike Hopkins immediately called timeout. He told his players to relax, to take their time, to find their composure.
When UW returned to the floor, there was an immediate difference. The Huskies clawed back into the game, tying the score at 20 with just more than 5 minutes left before halftime. Then they outscored UCLA 11-3 over the remainder of the half to take a 31-23 lead into the break.
That stretch was pivotal, said guard Matisse Thybulle.
“It gave us a chance to slow down,” he said. “Like (Crisp) was saying, we were just playing too fast. We were sped up. When we were able to get on that run, we kind of took over the space of the game. When we got the pace, we’re under control. We make the right reads and make the right decisions.”
Said Hopkins: “At the end of halves, you get the momentum. When you’re not playing well to be able to have an eight point lead at home was huge. We knew we were going to be in good position.”
UW then opened the second half on an 8-2 run.
After Noah Dickerson made a foul shot, Crisp scored on a driving layup. UCLA’s Kris Wilkes then hit a turnaround jumper before Dominic Green sank a second-chance 3-pointer for UW. When Jaylen Nowell added a jumper, it put UW ahead by 14 points, 39-25, with 16:27 remaining.
“It’s hard to have an answer for five guys,” said Thybulle, who finished with 14 points and seven steals. “We were able to get (UCLA) from all areas of the court. We were hitting threes. We were getting the hoop. We were getting guys in the post.
“When you don’t know where a team is going to be attacking from, it’s really hard to be everywhere. The biggest thing for us was just contribution from everyone.”
The Huskies lost Dickerson to a right ankle sprain less than 2 minutes into the second half. After that, the Huskies relied on center Sam Timmins inside. He didn’t disappoint, finishing with nine points, six rebounds and three blocks.
“He’s one of the fan favorites,” Thybulle said. “He’s our guy so he’s one of our favorites, too. When he’s got it going, we’re a better team.”
UCLA tried to climb back into the game midway through the second half, using a 7-0 run to pull within 46-39 with 11:11 left. But after Ali capped the stretch with a dunk in transition, Hopkins called another time out.
Once again, the Huskies regrouped.
Nowell, who had 15 points and four assists, was fouled on a made jumper out of the timeout and hit the ensuing free throw to put UW back up by 10 points. Wilkes then hit two foul shots for UCLA, but Thybulle responded with a corner 3-pointer and Nowell added a floater.
After Green hit another 3-pointer to put UW up 57-43 with 7:02 left, UCLA called timeout. But there was no regrouping for the Bruins. They never threatened again.
“We just made sure we stuck to what we know and what we can hang our hat on and that’s playing defense,” Crisps said. “They jumped on us a little bit. We took a timeout, got our composure back. Just calmed down and we started getting stops … started sharing the ball and stuff started clicking.”
The Huskies forced 23 UCLA turnovers and held the Bruins to 42.6 percent shooting from the field, including 26.7 percent from beyond the arc.
With the victory, the Huskies remained undefeated in the Pac-12 and stretched their winning streak to 11 games. Every other team in the conference has at least three losses.
“We know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Crisp said. “Everybody is looking at us at the top of the pack. Every game we play is going to be huge and they’re going to bring it to us.”
Dickerson injury update
Dickerson didn’t put any weight on his leg as he was helped off the court and into the locker room. He eventually returned to the bench on crutches, sitting for the remainder of the game with ice on his ankle. Afterward, he was seen in a walking boot.
Hopkins said Dickerson was in good spirits. He doesn’t expect the injury to be long-term. “I think he’ll be fine,” Hopkins said. “A little ankle sprain. We’ll take care of it.”