The fact it came against the worst team in the Pac-12 is irrelevant. Beating California on the road on Saturday was about as important a victory as Washington has had in several weeks, not for the quality of the opponent but for just how damaging such a loss would have been to the Huskies’ NCAA tournament hopes.
Instead, Washington (19-10, 9-7 Pac-12) heads into the final week of the regular season still in control of its own fate. Sweep the Oregon schools at home, then win at least one game in the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas and the Huskies’ first NCAA bid since 2011 should happen.
Losing to Cal would have completely changed Washington’s path, but at a critical point it put together enough offense to go with a tremendous second-half defensive effort to avoid disaster. Here’s what we learned about the Huskies along the way:
Jaylen Nowell’s athleticism pays dividends
Freshman Jaylen Nowell is Washington’s leading scorer, averaging 16.3 points per game. A 46.4 percent shooter entering Saturday, the 6-foot-4 guard’s shot hasn’t been falling as much lately and it’s led to some subpar offensive efforts.
He was only 4 of 10 from the field against California but made up for that by not settling for as many jumpers and taking it to the rim. That resulted in 14 free throw attempts and 13 makes, both career highs.
Nowell was averaging only 3.2 foul shots per game and was only 8 of 13 in Washington’s previous eight games. If he’s going to be more aggressive when an opponent leaves that option open, the Huskies’ offense will be adding another element.
California shot 34 percent overall and just 23.1 percent in the second half, going 4 of 17 from three-point range with no makes in nine attempts after halftime. Admittedly, the Golden Bears came in as one of the worst-shooting teams in the Pac-12, if not the country, but they were coming off a solid shooting game against Washington State on Thursday.
Washington only gave up six field goals in the second half, with four of those coming in the first 3:28. After that Cal was 2 of 19 from the field, and over the final 16-plus minutes the Huskies outscored the Bears 25-12.
Washington wrapped up the road portion of its Pac-12 schedule with a 4-5 record, ending a three-game losing streak outside Seattle. It was the Huskies’ most conference road victories in a season since 2012-13.
All told Washington is 5-7 in non-home games, the other win that epic defeat of 14-time reigning Big 12 champion Kansas in Kansas City on Dec. 6. Though the Huskies won’t have any more true road games this season—unless they end up in the NIT or CBI—there’s still the Pac-12 tourney in Vegas and, hopefully, neutral-site games in the NCAA tournament for them to continue to show off their improved play away from Hec Ed Pavilion.
The post Washington keeps NCAA hopes alive; What we learned from Huskies’ 68-51 win at California appeared first on Diehards.
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