SEATTLE — Once the black curtain protecting a retired jersey was removed, the Washington Huskies then got rid of the dark cloud hovering over them for the past 10 days.
UW (18-9, 8-5 Pac-12) did more than just build a first-half lead. It catapulted out to a 23-9 run in the second half and cruised to a 82-59 win Saturday over Colorado at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak — the longest losing run under first-year coach Mike Hopkins — during which the Huskies struggled to score consistently or force empty possessions on defense. That wasn’t the case against the Buffaloes (15-12, 7-8). UW shot 47.6 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from distance while holding Colorado to 40 percent and 30.8 percent.
“You gotta go out and fight and compete and whatever happens then happens,” Hopkins said. “You can miss shots. You can do all that stuff. Those are the things you gotta do.”
Even as the Huskies built a large lead, they stayed aggressive. Junior guard Matisse Thybulle, with around seven minutes remaining, forced a steal and missed the ensuing layup, only to have Jaylen Nowell grab the offensive rebound and score to give UW a 66-48 lead. Thybulle made up for his miss by hitting a 3-pointer and then getting another steal followed by an easy layup for a 71-50 lead with 4:49 to go.
Thybulle ended the game with a career-best 26 points on 8-for-11 shooting, with three 3-pointers in four attempts and four steals. Junior forward Noah Dickerson scored 14 points and added 10 rebounds while Dominic Green and Nowell each had 11.
“One of our main focuses coming into the game was to share the ball and get the ball moving,” Thybulle said. “I’ve said it before, today was my day and they left me open.”
Saturday was not without a bit of intrigue for a few reasons.
It started when UW officially retired the No. 2 jersey belonging to Los Angeles Lakers point guard Isaiah Thomas.
The Tacoma native became only the third men’s basketball player in program history to have his number enshrined, joining Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame center Bob Houbregs and All-American guard Brandon Roy.
Thomas, while wearing a purple suit jacket and black pants, spoke at halftime. He thanked several people including former Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar for helping him. Romar, now an assistant at Arizona, flew to Seattle for Thomas’ ceremony.
At the end, the former Curtis High star dedicated the moment to his sister, Chyna, who died last April in a car crash in Federal Way.
“I wish she was here right now to celebrate this special moment,” said Thomas, who received a standing ovation from the crowd. “Thank you for being here. I love you guys, and go Dawgs.”
There was also the game itself.
February has been a puzzling month for the Huskies.
Washington ran off a four-game winning streak and that included victories over then-No. 25 Arizona State and then-No. 9 Arizona.
UW elevated its record to 17-6 and raised a serious discussion about snapping its six-year NCAA Tournament drought.
From there, the Huskies lost three straight at Oregon and Oregon State and then last Thursday to Utah at home.
Junior guard David Crisp and Thybulle, along with Hopkins, said UW’s recent poor form was due in some part to a lack of energy.
“That hunger was back in us,” said Crisp, who finished with seven points and eight assists. “Everybody was having fun. That’s when we’re at our best.”
Hopkins showed early he was looking for a change. Green, who entered with three career starts, got the nod over Nowell, the team’s leading scorer, to start the game.
UW did more than lineup changes to reinforce its need to find energy. The Huskies showed some to start against the Buffaloes by highlighting little things. Crisp, after grabbing an offensive rebound, got in the lane. Instead of passing, he found an open Green for a 3-pointer.
Dickerson — two possessions later — worked inside for another offensive board. He drew a foul while going up for a putback.
The Huskies even toyed with different lineups. Hopkins ran a rotation with Nowell at point guard. The former Garfield High standout conducted a unit consisting of Nahziah Carter, Dickerson, Green and Thybulle.
Carter, after being blocked a few times earlier in the game, fought to force a steal and put home a dunk for a 32-24 lead with 4:15 to go in the first half.
“We just needed something different,” Hopkins said of the decision to start Green over Nowell. “I’ve always felt shooters need to start. That was one of my philosophies and I felt like we needed a spark from the exterior.”