SEATTLE – There were no “I-told-you-so” comments from the Washington players.
No sensible person could have dreamed these Huskies could win 20 games this season, not with a new coach for a team that lost 22 games one year ago and also lost the player who became the top draft choice in the NBA in Markelle Fultz.
When the buzzer sounded Thursday night on a hard-earned 79-77 victory over Oregon State, it was done. UW reached the 20-win plateau, along with 10 Pac-12 wins, a remarkable turnaround for a team that won nine games overall last season and only two conference games.
Power forward Noah Dickerson, the top scorer with 25 points, could only shake his head a chuckle when asked if he thought this was possible.
“Not at all,’’ Dickerson said. “Not with the stats we had coming in and new coaches. But we listened to them and they knew what they were talking about a little bit. We just kept getting better and better.”
It has been quite a school year on Montlake. This is the first time since the 1984-85 school year that Washington has a 10-win football season and a 20-win basketball season. The last time UW had a 20-win basketball season was 2011-12.
“It's a heck of an achievement,’’ said UW coach Mike Hopkins, who is well on his way to Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors. “Twenty is a big number. They bought in and they've executed. These are exciting times. I’m just really happy for them.”
Thursday was an example of a team that has learned how to win when it isn’t playing its best. The Huskies were hammered on the boards, being outrebounded 26-17 by the Beavers (14-15, 6-12), but UW stayed aggressive on the defensive end and consistently got the ball inside in the paint on the offensive end.
“It wasn’t pretty,’’ Hopkins said. “But we won this game at the free-throw line by continuing to attack the defense.”
The Huskies were 23 of 30 from the line compared to 12 of 16 for the Beavers. The game was close the entire second half, but UW got a defensive spark off the bench from 6-9 freshman Hameir Wright.
Wright played inside on the back line of the 2-3 zone. Wright doesn’t look like a physical player. He’s thin and lanky, but has long arms. He consistently denied the Oregon State big men inside late in the game.
“He saved the game,’’ junior guard Matisse Thybulle said of Wright. “That’s what we’ve needed from him all year.”
Dickerson had only one comment about Wright: “He grew a little chest tonight.”
Wright is an example of a bright future at UW. So is 6-6 freshman Naz Carter, who has become the team’s dunk highlight reel. He had another one Thursday with a drive in the lane before slamming it through the hoop over two defenders.
And when the Huskies needed a basket in the final two minutes, they ran a clear-out play and let freshman guard Jaylen Nowell do the rest. He drove the paint for a jumper and was fouled, completing the 3-point play to give UW a 75-69 lead. Nowell finished with 12 points.
“These guys are getting it,’’ Hopkins said. “One of the big words we’ve been using is poise. Stay in the moment. When we had to have stops, we got them.”
The Huskies (20-10 and 10-7) end the regular season Saturday afternoon at home against Oregon. Then it’s on to the Pac-12 Tournament. The big question is what it will take for UW to make the NCAA Tournament, probably a win over the Ducks and two victories in the conference tourney.
A trip to the NCAA tourney was an unimaginable expectation back in November when the Huskies didn’t know who they were or what they could be under Hopkins.
Now they know. Whether they get that bid or not, this team is going places soon.
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