By Manny Nunez
Washington entered the Pac-12 opener as one of the perceived bottom feeders in the league as the prototypical win over. Kansas at the Phog Allen Fieldhouse was an early signature win for Coach Mike Hopkins in his first season in Seattle. Against USC, the Huskies flexed and showed the Pac-12 that they are a tough out across the boards as they fashioned an 88-81 win at Galen Center over USC on Friday evening.
“Our game plan was working inside and feeding everyone under the hoop,” Huskies forward Noah Dickerson said, “Coach kept reminding us to just penetrate the ball inside and each time we had the ball under the hoop, we just kept scoring. USC had no answer, and we had everything under control.”
Washington did everything right to beat USC in shooting 67 percent from the field and scoring 52 points in the paint,; thus, it stood to reason that the aggressive attack in the paint would be a major factor against USC’s Cimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright.
Five Huskies scored in double figures, including Matisse Thybule, Sam Timmins, Dominic Greenthree who all average in single digits coming into the game. Defensively, they helped hold Elijah Stewart and Jordan McLaughlin to just 16 combined points and 6-for-18 shooting.
“To win on the road is always a great feeling,” Hopkins said, “USC is one of the best offensive teams in the country. To win, we had to force them outside and let them shoot off their marks. By containing their two best shooters, it allowed us to control the lane and take away all the composure the Trojans were trying to build.”
USC seemed at times they had the game under control, but size and physicality came against them in spurts. After falling behind early when the Huskies kept feeding the ball inside, Trojans head coach Andy Enfield regrouped and gave his team a little friendly motivation before a 12-0 Trojans run before Washington finished the half strong.
Washington opened up the second half much stronger opening with a five-of-seven shooting performance and put up a few more runs even though they fell into foul trouble early. As the Trojans were looking to find their footing offensively, the Huskies yet again were all over the paint, feeding Timmis and leading scorerJaylen Nowell continuously.
“Right now we are getting to know each other better,” Dickerson said. “When we feel like we were under pressure, we slowed the game down. We didn’t let their runs get to us. At the end, our offense kept up and did what we needed to win.”
After Washington last season finished the year losing 13 straight conference games which led to the firing of long time head coach Lorenzo Romar, Hopkins has solidified the program with his philosophy and vision for where Washington can go. It’s not a question of talent, but a question of developing the mentality once again that the Huskies can win and battle in the Pac-12 immediately. Finishing their SoCal road trip 2-0 with a win over UCLA to close out 2017 is now the objective and would certainly push the rising Huskies forward.
“There is a lot of talent in this conference, and our guys are learning who they are,” Hopkins said. “We can win any game where we shoot like we did tonight. But there is not a lot of margin for error. Any time we are in the sand trap, it’s a learning experience to get out of it. Tonight was a great example.”