Matisse Thybulle owns his identity as a defensive-oriented basketball player.
The freshman from Sammamish has the physical specifications to thrive in such a role within the aggressive, frantic style employed by Washington Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar. He’s 6-foot-5 with arms the length of someone a few inches taller. He’s quick. He can run a mile in less than five minutes. He can jump high enough to view the rim at eye level, and he has started each of the Huskies’ games this season, mostly due to contributions not revealed by the box score.
Sunday’s game, then, represented something of a breakout.
Thybulle scored 16 points in UW’s 87-69 victory over the visiting Cal State-Fullerton Titans at Hec Edmundson Pavilion — just two fewer points than he’d scored in the Huskies’ first six games combined — to help his team through a funk that had them trailing by 11 points nearly midway through the first half.
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It was by far Thybulle’s best offensive game of the season. He scored 11 points in the first half, made 3 of 4 from 3-point range — each open looks that he hoisted without hesitation — and had a pair of easy dunks, one in the first half and another in the second, to round out a performance that also included four rebounds, two assists, a blocked shot and three turnovers in 19 minutes.
Those kind of numbers are something of a bonus for a player who adheres willingly to a defensive focus.
“I think if I’m put in a position to make a play, coach trusts me to make that play, and I trust myself to go out there and make the right decision,” Thybulle said. “So I say, I’ll take care of business on the defensive end, and if need be, I’ll take care of it on the offensive end, too.
“… It’s not necessarily a matter of me waiting for it to happen — it’s if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing in the offense, and an opportunity shows itself, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
His teammates exhort him to do that more often in an ongoing attempt to increase his offensive confidence. Fellow freshman guard Dejounte Murray, who led UW on Sunday with 17 points, five assists and five steals, volunteered that Thybulle is “one of our offensive threats, too. We try to tell him, stay aggressive. You’re not just a defender. So we all try to keep him confident.”
He looked it on Sunday. Thybulle scored UW’s first four points as the Huskies slogged their way to a 24-13 deficit, which they erased mostly by marching to the free-throw line 26 times in the first 20 minutes. They made 17 of those shots, settled into a more energetic defensive approach, and outscored Fullerton, 34-14, in the final 11 minutes, 20 seconds of the first half.
UW’s nine-point halftime lead swelled to 16 after a quick 9-1 run midway through the second half, and the Huskies pushed it to 76-54 following a Murray layup, Thybulle’s second dunk and an off-balance corner 3-pointer by David Crisp.
Romar credited Thybulle, Murray, senior guard Andrew Andrews (15 points, 10 rebounds) and junior forward Malik Dime for the defensive turnaround. The Huskies (5-2) forced 20 turnovers that led to 20 points, and held the Titans (6-2) to 34.4 percent shooting from the field.
“We started to make them more uncomfortable and try to keep them in front of us a little bit,” Romar said. “Malik was protecting the basket, and we got a lot of baskets in transition as a result of our defense. But that was the recipe to get it going: just bear down on the defensive end.”
That’s something at which the Huskies expect Thybulle to excel. But he showed more offensive skill on Sunday than he had yet this season.
“He’s kind of an opportunist right now,” Romar said. “He’s such a good athlete and so quick, he just kind of gets in there and has opportunities to make plays, and when he’s playing aggressively, he’s capable of doing that. But he came out, he hit some shots from the outside and you can just see his confidence grow. And when Matisse plays with confidence, he’s a different player.”
One who can make the Huskies a better team.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: UW’s Dejounte Murray scored a team-high 17 points and added five assists, five steals and three rebounds (plus two turnovers) in 29 minutes. He had an impressive breakaway dunk, made a few jumpers, finished well at the rim and bothered Fullerton’s guards with defensive pressure all night.
IT WAS OVER WHEN: The Huskies raced to a 68-52 lead following Murray’s steal and layup with a little more than 10 minutes left in the game. Fullerton didn’t have the firepower to make up such a deficit.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Huskies shot 26 free throws in the first half, and CSUF committed 19 fouls … but the Titans only had five fouls in the second half, and UW shot only two free throws after intermission.
QUOTABLE: “Sometimes I feel like we think we can just walk out on the floor and it’s just going to happen our way, because we haven’t played enough games where a game maybe we were supposed to win didn’t happen. … So hopefully, again in a win, we can learn these lessons.” — UW coach Lorenzo Romar
WHAT IT MEANS: UW struggled early and Romar noted how flat the Huskies looked. But once they turned up their defensive pressure and started forcing turnovers that led to easy offense, they pulled away from an overmatched nonconference opponent. There’s nothing remarkable about that, but taking care of business is better than the alternative.
UP NEXT: TCU at Washington, 8 p.m. Tuesday (Pac-12 Networks)