The night before Washington’s 78-75 win over USC in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals, head coach Mike Hopkins stressed the importance of the Huskies’ bench.
“When we’re providing energy off the bench we’re a different team,” sophomore guard Nahziah Carter said of Hopkins’ message. “I definitely thought about that all night and tried to come out and do my best out there.”
Early in the season, UW’s depth was a concern. The Huskies weren’t getting many offensive contributions from players not named Jaylen Nowell and Noah Dickerson, and Hopkins knew that couldn’t continue if they were going to be successful in Pac-12 play.
A lot has changed since then.
The scoring has evened out among the starters. David Crisp was UW’s second-leading scorer during the conference season. Matisse Thybulle has often contributed offensively while also wreaking defensive havoc. Even sophomore Hameir Wright has picked his moments. He hit two 3-pointers against USC.
But the bench play has been the X-factor. When Dominic Green is shooting well, he gives the Huskies an extra element. He finished 3-for-6 from the 3-point line against the Trojans. Carter was one of three players double figures, scoring 13 points off 5-of-9 shooting and grabbing four rebounds, two offensive.
“I just try to work with what they’re giving me and tonight they were giving me a lot,” Carter said after the win. “Getting offensive boards, they weren’t really boxing out the whole way. I just happened to be able to put the ball in the basket tonight.”
In UW’s 15 regular-season conference wins, the bench averaged 18.3 points per game. In the three losses, the bench averaged just 10.3. The Huskies got 20 or more points from its bench nine times during the Pac-12 season, and it happened again in the Huskies’ first postseason game.
UW finished with single-digit bench points just three times during Pac-12 play, and two of those games were losses. The Huskies’ bench scored seven points in there road loss to Cal. It had six when UW fell to Oregon at home last week. Three of those points came from freshman Elijah Hardy’s throwaway 3-pointer in the final seconds. Carter had the other three.
That energy from the bench was missing on senior night, Carter said. And that was a game where UW really could’ve used it.
“Sometimes senior night is a difficult time to play, too many of the wrong emotions,” Carter said. “We weren’t really fired up, saying goodbye and stuff like that. Now I just feel like we’re ready. All that’s in the past and stuff like that.”
The Huskies’ bench also had eight points in the regular-season win over USC. But in Thursday’s victory over the Trojans, the Huskies finished with 22 points from their reserves. Afterward, Hopkins said spreading out the scoring has been vital to UW’s success.
“When we share the ball, like we did tonight — the ball was moving, the ball was popping — everybody is popping,” Hopkins said. “(When) everybody is making it, we can beat anybody and I think that’s been the biggest key.”