Mike Hopkins called the timeout with 49 seconds left and Washington clinging to a one-point lead.
It was a 20-second timeout, called immediately after USC’s Jonah Mathews drained a 3-pointer to all but erase the Huskies’ once double-digit advantage. But if you ask senior Matisse Thybulle what his head coach said in those pivotal moments, he wouldn’t be able to tell you.
He doesn’t really remember it happening at all.
“When you get to that point in a game, there’s been just so much emotion and things like that,” Thybulle said. “You get so locked in. You’re not aware of what’s on around you. You kind of black out. You’re just living in the moment.”
But even if Hopkins drew up the following sequence — even if Thybulle actually remembered it — he couldn’t have designed it any better. In a 5-second span after that timeout, first-seeded UW did enough to secure a 78-75 victory over No. 8 seed USC in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals.
First, Dominic Green drained a 3-pointer that pushed the Huskies’ advantage back to 75-71 with 37 seconds left. Suddenly, a one-point lead was a two-possession deficit. Green felt like that threws Trojan point guard Derrick Thornton off-balance.
That’s why he didn’t see Thybulle coming.
Thybulle, who was named a finalist for Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Thursday morning, had five steals against USC. He now has 115 for the season, setting the Pac-12 single-season record.
None of them were bigger than the last one. After Thybulle tipped the ball away from Thornton and took off in transition, he threw down a highlight-reel windmill dunk. That gave UW a 77-71 lead with 32 seconds left.
Thybulle didn’t have his best offensive performance, finishing 2-of-8 from the field. But that didn’t matter in the end.
“He’s done that all year,” said Husky point guard David Crisp. “He’s the best at it. I told him down the stretch, there was a few minutes left, ‘Show them who you are, show them why you are who you are.’ And he did Matisse-style things. I haven’t seen a windmill like that, though.”
UW still allowed USC to hang around by going 1-for-5 from the foul line down the stretch. Trailing 78-75 with less than 7 seconds left, the Trojans had the ball and a chance to tie the game. But they turned it over instead. And even though Crisp missed two foul shots at the other end, the Huskies held on from there.
When he walked into the locker room after the game, sophomore Nahziah Carter told his teammates he went through every possible emotion in the game’s final minute. Thybulle didn’t disagree.
“It’s highs, lows,” Thybulle said. “It’s scary. Especially playing against a team with that much firepower because they hit big shots and they hit a lot of them. We just had to knuckle down and fight through it and know that we had to stay solid and keep them out of what they wanted to do, which is knocking down threes.”
The Huskies led by 10 points, 67-57, with 7:57 left in the game. But USC refused to go away. Instead, the Trojans rattled off six straight points to pull back within four with 4:48 remaining. They shot 45 percent from the field for the game, but UW held them to 38 percent in the second half.
Thybulle responded for the Huskies, scoring his first points on a dunk off an assist from Crisp. But Kevin Porter Jr.’s dunk at the other end pulled the Trojans back within 69-65 with 3:17 remaining.
Crisp then came up with a steal for UW that led to a Jaylen Nowell layup, pushing the Huskies’ advantage to 71-65 with 2:03 left. Then Bennie Boatwright drained a 3-pointer at the other end, pulling the Trojans within three points, 71-68, with 1:44 remaining.
After Nowell went 1-for-2 at the free throw line to put UW ahead 72-68 with with 1:27 left, Mathews drained a 3-pointer to cut the Huskies’ advantage to a single point.
That’s when Hopkins called the timeout.
“Just get the win,” Crisp said of Hopkins’ message .”Do whatever takes. Just get one more stop, one more stop. Just execute. We did that.”
Thanks to the victory, the Huskies have still yet to lose back-to-back games this season. UW played one of its worst halves of the year in its home loss to Oregon on senior night last week. The postseason gave the Huskies a chance to reset, Crisp said. It also gave Crisp a chance to put the emotions from his final home game behind him.
Crisp struggled against the Ducks, finishing 1-for-7 from the field for four points. He also had three turnovers. In the win over USC, he had 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, six assists and two turnovers.
“I feel like senior night, obviously a very emotional night. I feel like I didn’t handle that the best,” Crisp said. “It wasn’t really something I could really control. It’s tough. I just felt like it was a little too emotional.
“I felt like we kind of focused a little more on the night than the game. We just had to refocus and have a short-term memory. That’s what’s made us so successful this year.”
After a 10-0 start in Pac-12 play, the Huskies were able to wrap up the conference title a week before the regular season ended. But then they went 2-2 in their last four games, falling to Cal on the road and Oregon at home.
Subconsciously, Crisp said, they lost some of what fueled them.
“Early in the year, you go and set your goals. OK, we want to take it one game at a time but overall, you want to win the league, Pac-12 championship,” he said. “When you do that so early in the season, it’s just kind of human nature to get complacent and everything.
“With the fresh start, postseason, it’s like a whole new season. Everybody’s hungry. You can really see that big chip on your shoulder again.”
Nowell led the Huskies with 24 points, eight rebounds and three assists while Carter had 13 points and four rebounds.
“I don’t think they were keyed in on me tonight,” Carter said. “When it’s like that, I just try to work with what they’re giving me and tonight they were giving me a lot.”
Mathews, Porter Jr. and Nick Rakocevic each scored 17 points for USC. Bennie Boatwright added 16.
UW will face No. 5 seed Colorado in the semifinals on Friday night at 6 p.m.
With a renewed focus, UW is now looking to add a tournament championship to its regular season title.
“We hate losing,” Crisp said. “This team is resilient and we stayed together and that’s the biggest thing. Usually, when teams lose, you start to splinter off. Guys start to do their own thing. But every time we’ve lost, we’ve come together.”