The Huskies Went On The Road And Beat #2 Kansas

This.  Was.  Incredible.

If this game happened in Hec Ed, you would’ve seen 5,000-some-odd people storming the court, but it feels so much bigger because it took place in the Sprint Center in Kansas City, so not only was this a road game, but it was a road game where they could manage to cram in MORE Jayhawks fans than if they’d played the game on campus.  And to not only win, but win COMFORTABLY, by a score of 74-65, I just don’t have the brain capacity to comprehend this.

This is the biggest win since dot dot dot:

Well, last year, the Huskies won all of 9 games (they’ve already won 7 this year, but shhh, don’t tell anyone), and they lost handily to every ranked opponent they played.

The year before, we had an NIT team, and the only ranked team we beat was a #25-ranked UCLA squad who wasn’t even good enough to crack the NIT.

The year before that, we were nothing, and somehow beat a #13-ranked Utah team at home (who would go on to the Sweet 16).  We also beat a #15-ranked Oklahoma team on a neutral floor that would also go on to the Sweet 16 and a #13-ranked San Diego State team at home that would go on to the Round of 32.  How that Husky team did nothing whatsoever in conference play is a testament to underachieving.

I could keep going, but the point is it’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Huskies win a game that huge.  I don’t remember them EVER winning against such a highly ranked team on the road; the last time they beat a Top 2 team was in 2004 when they hosted the #1-ranked Stanford Cardinal at the end of the season.

Obviously, we don’t know where Kansas will end up this season, but they’re definitely well-regarded at the moment (they were undefeated heading into the game, with wins over Kentucky and Syracuse), they’re a perennial powerhouse school in college basketball, and barring a total collapse or a rash of injuries, they should be a lock to play in the NCAA Tournament come March.  Are they REALLY a Top 10 team?  Time will tell.  But, right now they’re ranked #2 in the nation, and the Huskies handled them like I’ve never seen!

It was a thing of beauty.  For starters, that defense.  They essentially locked down the perimeter, did a good job staying with the big man down low, and dared the guy in the middle – a Junior guard by the name of Lagerald Vick – to single-handedly win the game on the offensive end.  True to form, he finished with 28 points, 7 assists, and 5 boards, but he was only 12/23 from the floor, and the next-highest scorer only had 10 points.  When you consider this is a Kansas team that lives for the 3-point shot, and has a couple of quality post players, Coach Hop came up with a stroke of genius in shutting them down.  Let’s just hope more teams don’t take this strategy; it would be really cool if Kansas finished the season in the Top 10, so at the very least we can hang our hat on this game being very important.

As impressed as I was about the Husky defense (and it shouldn’t be glossed over; these guys have bought in, and the zone defense really suits this team like a glove!  I think my favorite thing I’ve seen out of this team, from a defensive perspective, is a drastic reduction in ticky-tack fouls.  Sure, the zone will get beaten from time to time, but you don’t really see the Huskies compounding that by giving the opposing team an And One opportunity as often as you’d see under Romar.  I think that’s huge; not getting into early and frequent foul trouble.  I mean, let’s face it, most college players – particularly the One & Done types – don’t want to play defense.  That’s not what gets you into The League.  That’s where the zone comes in.  Sure, there are tons of zone-busting plays out there; it’s not a cure-all.  But, for one, to beat the zone you have to shoot well, and if you have an off night, you can lose to just about anyone deploying it.  Secondly, more often than not it’ll at least keep you in the game, so if YOU shoot well, you can still overcome the other team busting your zone.  It may not be as macho or whatever as playing man-to-man, but as we’ve seen under the last few years with Romar, if you don’t have the drive, the ability, and the mindset to be a good defender, then you’re essentially useless when you play man-to-man.  Also, don’t get me started on that abomination where they’d switch on every single pick play; what the shit was that???), I think I was even more impressed by the Husky offense!

I’ve seen Husky teams in the recent past hang in there against superior competition.  For a quarter, or a half, and once in a blue moon all the way to the last 4-5 minutes of the game!  But, inevitably, the Huskies – ever since Isaiah Thomas went to the Pros – lacked that one guy who could make a big shot in crunch time.  Last night, the Huskies didn’t really need anyone to play that role, but that’s only because the entire team stayed composed and made shots the whole game!

Things were a little dicey early, as Kansas jumped out to a 10-5 lead, and I wondered if we could stay within the 22-point spread.  But, as I just said, guys kept making shots and by halftime, the Huskies had worked their way to a 2-point lead, 36-34.

That lead ballooned to 52-44 early in the second half before Kansas went on a nice little run to pull the game to 53-52, with just under 10 minutes left in the game.  That was a real gut check time, as you could hear the crowd start to get into it, and it looked like the better team would finally take over.

Instead, not even three minutes later, the Husky lead was back to 10, 64-54, and it was just a matter of trading buckets to the finish line.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some daggers thrown in there.  That David Crisp three-ball with just over two minutes to go in the game felt like a real back-breaker, to put the Huskies up by 14.  With a good-shooting team like Kansas, you feel like no lead is safe.  Sure, they hit a couple garbage-time threes in the final minute, but they finished the game 5/20 from beyond the arc, and more importantly, were only 4/8 from the free throw line.  No three balls AND no free throws?  I’ll take that every single game!

Getting back, though, the Huskies shot 48.3% from the floor, and 42.9% from long range.  We also got to the line 15 times (only hitting 7).  Hell, we even out-rebounded them!

There wasn’t one star, or one guy carrying the entire team, which is what the Huskies are going to need to do if they want to keep this thing going.  Matisse Thybulle led the way with 19 points (hitting 5/8 from downtown), 4 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block.  Jaylen Nowell had 17 points; Noah Dickerson had 13 points, 14 boards, and 5 assists.  David Crisp chipped in 10 points and 7 assists; Sam Timmins had 8 points and 3 boards in 18 minutes; and forward Hameir Wright came off the bench for 27 minutes, scoring 5 to go along with 6 boards and 3 blocks.

I just couldn’t be happier or more proud of this team.  The young guys are producing, the holdovers are buying in, and you can already see some steady improvement from where we were just one month ago when the season started.  Remember, the media predicted Washington would finish 10th in the conference!  Ahead of only Cal (who looks like a disaster) and Wazzu (who got off to a hot start, before losing their last two, including a 27-point drubbing to Idaho last night).  If the Huskies can continue to play this type of Team ball, who knows where we’ll end up?

I know this, a win on the road against #2 Kansas would look MIGHTY good on a team’s resume, if – for instance – that team happened to be on the bubble.

I’ll be the first to admit, I had zero expectations for that game last night, or this season in general.  The only reason I had the game on at all was to see just how close – or how far away – this team was compared to the best in the nation.  Now that they’ve won, and won handily, my interest has definitely perked up.  If they can go on the road to win in Kansas, what’s stopping this team from coming back home on Sunday and taking down #12 Gonzaga?

I’m not ready to predict a win just yet – after all, the Zags just lost to Villanova and are sure to be pretty salty about it – but before the game last night, there was NO QUESTION the Huskies would lose both of these games.  After the game last night, it’s not off the table that we might win both and find ourselves in the Top 25 next week.

Think about THAT!  Wouldn’t that be something?

I texted it to my friends last night, and I plan on keeping my promise:  every year, we go to the Reno/Tahoe area for the first weekend of March Madness to gamble on sports and drink our livers black for three straight days; the first thing I’m going to do when I land and get checked in is I’m going to place $100 on the Huskies against whoever they’re playing in the Tournament.  Because we’re fucking going!  That’s all there is to it!