SEATTLE – As the saying goes, it’s survive and advance for tournament play in March.
The Washington Huskies were a prime example of that theory Wednesday night in a 77-74 victory over Boise State at Alaska Airlines Arena.
In a frantic final minute, the Huskies watched a 9-point lead evaporate into Boise State taking a 3-point shot to try to force overtime.
Fortunately this time for UW, the shot by Lexus Williams was in and out off the rim and the Huskies survived in the opening round of the NIT.
Washington also overcame a brilliant performance by Boise State’s 6-7 senior guard Chandler Hutchinson. The Mountain West Player of the Year scored 39 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
“They have one of the best players in the country that no one knows about,’’ UW coach Mike Hopkins said of Hutchinson. “I almost had a cardiac there at the end.”
Hutchinson made 11 of 17 shots and 14 of 19 free throws. The rest of the team made 12 of 38 shots and six free throws.
“He’s great, but one person can’t do it all,” said UW guard Matisse Thybulle, who had 18 points, five rebounds and four steals. “We were able to hold down some of their other key players.”
The Huskies were lucky that Hutchinson didn’t have the ball for the final shot. Williams missed all seven shots he took in the game. His first 3-point attempt at the end was partially blocked by Dom Green, but Williams still had time to take one last shot before the buzzer. He almost made it.
“I’ll tell you something,’’ Hopkins said. “We beat a really good basketball team tonight. They have a heck of a program.”
Now the Huskies (21-12) try to beat a much better team on Monday night when they face top-seeded St. Mary’s, a group of players still seething over not getting picked for the NCAA Tournament. It showed Tuesday night when the Gaels crushed Southeastern Louisiana 89-45.
UW will need freshman Jaylen Nowell to play like he played against Boise State, scoring 25 points and grabbing six rebounds. It was his best effort since soring 25 against Seattle U back in November.
Nowell may be UW’s most talented player, but he’s struggled at times over the last month, scoring 12 points or less in six of the last nine games before Wednesday.
His biggest play of the night actually was an assist on a towering alley-oop pass to Thybulle, who leaped to the sky for a monstrous dunk that got the crowd roaring.
“We saw it was there earlier,’’ Nowell said. “I told [Thybulle] I was going to throw it up there and to go get it.”
It was a dramatic moment, but the Huskies won this game with their defense, coming up with nine steal and nine blocks, which led to a 13-8 advantage on fast breaks.
They will need that type of aggressive play to have a chance against St. Mary’s.