Just over two weeks ago, Washington trailed the USC Trojans by double digits early in the first half. Suddenly, the Huskies came roaring back. A 15-0 run sent the Huskies into the half with a lead and loads of momentum. Unfortunately, they were unable to get the job done in the second half.
Tonight, in that regard, was deja vu for Husky basketball fans, as the Arizona State Sun Devils sneaked past Washington 83-81.
UW's Markelle Fultz tied for a team-high 19 points in his return to action despite limited minutes due to a knee issue that had kept him out the previous two games. Carlos Johnson hustled his way to 19 as well, while grabbing 12 boards. Matisse Thybulle also had a double-double, scoring 15 points and securing 11 rebounds. David Crisp and Noah Dickerson also reached double-digit scoring, picking up 13 and 11 respectively.
Torian Graham led all scorers tonight with 29, with ASU teammate Tra Holder following closely behind at 21. Shannon Evans’ 13 points coupled his team-high five assists. Obinna Oleka, who was a big factor down the stretch, had eight points.
The Huskies were sluggish out of the gates, falling behind 13-2 right off the bat. Washington’s struggles continued, finding themselves down 30-15 about midway through the first half. No matter what Washington did, no matter the personnel groupings, they couldn’t get anything going. After playing 10 different players in that stretch of play, head coach Lorenzo Romar elected to use a small lineup.
That’s when the Huskies made their turnaround.
"They shoot the basketball so well that we did not stay in the zone," said Romar. "I thought when we went with a quicker team we began to get loose balls. We weren’t getting any loose balls at first. We began to get rebounds, loose balls. We were able to guard their three. They made five threes in the first half, I think they were 5-13. Second half we weren’t able to do that with that lineup, so we just decided to go with a quicker lineup".
A few fabulous Fultz buckets and a couple Johnson hustle-plays later, the Huskies found themselves on an 11-1 run. The Dawgs were running with a lineup that featured Fultz, Johnson, Crisp, Thybulle, and Dan Kingma to end the first period. The Huskies continued to go on a tear, racing past the Sun Devils and taking a 41-39 lead into the half.
Johnson's hustle stood out to Romar as a big difference maker.
"To get a double-double when he was one of the ringleaders in terms of that scrappiness when we weren’t getting any loose balls," Romar said of his freshman guard. "We just couldn’t grab it, and he gets in and all of a sudden every loose ball was his. He made some big plays. He gave us a lot of energy. He played very, very well."
His physicality down low paid dividends for the Huskies, allowing them to go small without skipping a beat in the rebound department.
“Guarding bigs and not letting them score on me and getting put-backs and dunks and stuff. I don’t really care about shooting” Johnson said.
The Huskies started the second half with Dickerson on the floor, but quickly went back to using a small lineup. After trading blows to open the second half, Arizona State sparked an 11-0 run with just over eight minutes remaining. Obinna Oleka played a crucial role during this stretch, pulling down a few offensive rebounds and converting a few shots in the paint.
“Some of those things that I talked about," Romar said of the run. "We just shot the ball too quickly. When we playing offense right and moving the ball, we were scoring, doing a good job with it.”
With the tide turned, Washington was down but not yet out. At 77-71, Washington fought back to pull within three with just under 20 seconds to go. After a missed jumper, Johnson and Holder got tangled up underneath the basket. He was dinged with a flagrant foul, while Holder picked up a technical.
“Yeah, I thought it was a regular foul," Romar said of the altercation. "Honestly I didn’t realize I grabbed him that hard" said the freshman guard.
Holder made his pair of free throws. Thybulle did as well. It was still Husky ball, now with nine seconds to go. Fultz couldnt get a three to fall, but a Kingma tip-in pulled the Dawgs within one with about two seconds to go.
Torian Graham received the inbound pass and was fouled instantly. He made his first free throw, but a lane violation negated his second. This allowed the Huskies to inbound the ball with 1.1 seconds left. A half court heave from Fultz caught the edge of the iron, but didn’t fall, ending Washington’s comeback effort.
"He practices those shots all the time," Romar said of Fultz's desperation toss. "Dan Kingma threw a great pass, being the former Little League World Series guy that he is. If we can make that pass we knew Markelle could go get it and make it. He came close.”
The Huskies, whose only conference wins this year have come at Alaska Airlines Arena, take on the Wildcats in their final home contest of the season.
Opening - “After a rough start, I was really excited by how scrappy and how much harder our guys played to come back and take the lead at halftime. I just thought we did a great job. They scored 23 points off of our turnovers. That was huge in this game. There were times where we were in scoring position where we didn’t convert, yet turned it over. So instead of us scoring two we don’t get it and they score on the other end with a two or three. In a close game like that, that hurt us.
“I thought in the second half we moved the ball and was waiting and waiting and then get a great shot. We took the lead and then we became impatient, for whatever reason, and shoot too quickly, which is what we did not want to do. Not only would we not score, they would come down and get in a rhythm.
“Along with a few defensive breakdowns that should not have happened in the second half, that was the difference in the game right there.”
When it was tied at 69, what happened that allowed ASU to get separation? - “Some of those things that I talked about. We just shot the ball too quickly. When we playing offense right and moving the ball, we were scoring, doing a good job with it.”
When Noah came in the second half, what was it about the game that made you want to go back to playing smaller? - “I just thought it was too difficult. They shoot the basketball so well that we did not stay in the zone. I thought when we went with a quicker team we began to get loose balls. We weren’t getting any loose balls at first. We began to get rebounds, loose balls. We were able to guard their three. They made five threes in the first half, I think they were 5-13. Second half we weren’t able to do that with that lineup, so we just decided to go with a quicker lineup.”
What did you see with Carlos’s flagrant foul at the end? - “They were both competing. Carlos grabbed it and followed through with the guy pushing him out of the way a little bit. The guy pushed us, which I thought the officials, I thought they did a decent job on that.”
Have to monitor Markelle’s minutes tonight? - “Yes. We had to. We couldn’t play him the entire time.”
What did he give you tonight? - “A huge lift. Just his presence, he scored. He’s a little rusty from not playing, not practicing, but he made plays for us. Like he’s done all year.”
Do you feel like he came out of the game okay? - “We’ll find out tomorrow after he’s had a good night’s sleep we’ll see how he feels.”
Did the rust show up when guys started to defer and he wasn’t really looking to take over? - “The rust with him? I don’t know if I can say that. When you say defer, if you’re not talking about him I think we were not trying to just get the ball and take one quick shot. We’re kind of in-between there. Again, it’s kind of a different lineup. Usually we can play with a big out there and we know exactly what that lineup is. We practice it in practice but it’s not natural. It’s not our natural way to play all the time.”
Did you think the shot at the end had a chance? - “I did. And it did have a legitimate chance. He practices those shots all the time. Dan Kingma threw a great pass, being the former Little League World Series guy that he is. If we can make that pass we knew Markelle could go get it and make it. He came close.”
What’s the feeling in the locker room right now? - “I think our guys are really disappointed. We’ve had a lot of disappointment, but I don’t think our chins are on the floor. I think our guys know that we have one more home game and we have a few more weeks left in this season to try and get better for the Pac-12 Tournament.”
On Carlos’s game - “Outstanding. I think he got tired at the end. To get a double-double when he was one of the ringleaders in terms of that scrappiness when we weren’t getting any loose balls. We just couldn’t grab it, and he gets in and all of a sudden every loose ball was his. He made some big plays. He gave us a lot of energy. He played very, very well.”
How important was it for Matisse to play well and get a double-double? - “It was huge. Matisse had 12 rebounds. That’s a career-high anywhere. I thought he did a nice job on the glass. Really nice job on the glass. So it was good to see both those guys had double-doubles.”
On Malik Dime playing for Senior Night - “We’ll determine it Saturday.”
On finding that grit that’s been missing - “In stretches there’s no question we had grit. In stretches. I thought we had grit, but we didn’t take care of the ball. Taking care of the ball and offensively continue to move the ball - that’s what got us there. That’s what got us to where we had the lead, and if we continued to do that we would have been fine, but that’s where we broke down. But the grit, other than the beginning of the game I thought we had some grit.”
On Carlos being aggressive and whether or not you have to throttle it back sometimes - “When you have a guy like Carlos, you continue to mentor Carlos, you continue to watch him grow and just help him channel all of that fight that he has into battling on the court. And I’d rather have that than someone to be passive, trying to get them to go harder.”
Is that battling rubbing off on the rest of the team? - “Yeah. When he goes in and he’s playing like that it’s infectious. I thought it rubbed off on our team. I thought our team started playing like that when he came in the game.”
On body language suggesting even more investment in this game than normal - “We’re all fighting. We’re all fighting. As the leader of this team they need to see that fight over there on that sideline. We tried to give it to them.”
What was your take on the end of the game and your final foul? Did you just assume it was a regular foul? - “I thought it was a regular foul. Honestly I didn’t even realize I had grabbed him that hard. The way I grabbed him I shouldn’t have but it’s just basketball. It’s just tough love.”
Do you think you gave your team a lift? - “Just a little bit. I had some defensive errors I’m going to work on. I felt like I helped, I did my part a little bit but I could have done a little more to help my boys win.”
Did you feel your play was contagious? - “I guess it helps the team if they get fired up when I’m doing good. But I just try and go out there and try and win the game for real. I just want my boys to feel happy at the end of the game. I don’t want to come back to a locker room with an L.”
Did you notice the energy coming from the coaches tonight? - “The coaches are always 100 percent in. We just have to give it our all out there. We let it slip away this one, but we know we’ll bounce back from it.”
What spark does it give you guys when you go small on the court? - “Nobody can guard us. It’s hard for other teams to guard us when we’re five guards in because their big can’t close out on us too fast or we’ll blow right past ‘em. And they can’t guard us in the post.”
What’s your reaction on the floor when you realize how small the lineup is? - “It’s a different feel because we push it way faster. We can get out and run, get easy buckets. It’s just a different feel from when the big’s in the game.”
On making that three - “If you know me, you know I don’t shoot behind the arc a lot, so when I do hit one it feels good. When I don’t I be on myself hard.”
What do you get a bigger kick out of when you get to double-double territory: a bucket or a rebound? What do you take more pride in? - “Guarding bigs and not letting them score on me and getting put-backs and dunks and stuff. I don’t really care about shooting.”