EUGENE, Ore. — The ball bounced off the top of the backboard, the whistle stunning the Matthew Knight Arena crowd into silence. And as Jaylen Nowell’s teammates swarmed him with celebratory hugs, Washington’s sophomore guard had just one thought.
We did it.
The Huskies (15-5, 6-0 Pac-12) didn’t have Oregon (11-8, 2-4) beat just yet. But after Payton Pritchard was called for a foul on Nowell’s deep, desperation 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds remaining, the Huskies never had any doubt.
With the score tied 51-51, Nowell calmly stepped to the line and knocked down the first two free throws. Then, after Oregon called a timeout, he made the third. Matisse Thybulle added two more foul shots with less than a second remaining, giving UW a 61-56 victory over the Ducks on Thursday night.
“(Nowell is) one of the clutchest players I’ve played with, one of the clutchest I’ve seen, honestly,” said UW point guard David Crisp. “I’ve seen how many times he’s sealed games and gotten clutch buckets. Him at the line? That was a no-brainer. That’s ballgame.”
The Huskies are now 6-0 in the Pac-12 for the first time since the 1983-84 season. The victory was also their first at Oregon since March 4, 2010.
“I was ready to make all three of those free throws,” Nowell said. “I wanted to come, me and (David Crisp) talked about it. We wanted to beat these guys at home and that’s what we came here to do.”
UW led for most of the game. But the Huskies struggled against the press in the second half — they turned the ball over 12 times after the break — and momentum shifted on a 14-0 Oregon run. The Ducks grabbed a 52-51 lead in the midst of it, pulling ahead for the first time since early in the first half on a Pritchard 3-pointer with 4:11 remaining.
“It’s one of those games where momentum just shifted,” said Husky head coach Mike Hopkins. “They got the crowd in it. They were all over the place. They only have a certain amount of timeouts. We were trying to breathe for air, hoping the guys could show poise and composure. They had it rocking in there.”
By the time the Ducks’ scoring streak ended, they had 56-51 lead. UW finally responded with a jumper from Nowell. He then added a 3-pointer that tied the score, 56-56, with 1:33 remaining.
There were moments, Nowell admitted, when UW felt it’s composure slipping. But like the Huskies have so many times this season, they looked toward their senior leaders. One of them was Crisp, who immediately started clapping and motioning for his teammates to relax after Pritchard gave Oregon the lead.
“Like Dave said, one of our leaders, he’s like, ‘We’ve been through worse,’” Nowell said. “At the end of the day, that’s what made us just calm and able to break that press.”
The Huskies looked to reclaim the lead after Crisp came up with a steal with 1:10 left, but Thybulle was called for a charge in transition. Then after Pritchard missed a 3-pointer for Oregon, Thybulle followed with a missed three of his own.
That gave the Ducks the ball with 19.3 seconds left and the score still tied. But Thybulle stifled Pritchard on the perimeter, keeping him from getting a shot off and forcing him to cough up the ball. Nowell collected it, raced toward the other end and launced the 3-point attempt that set up his game-winning foul shots.
“Point blank, Matisse Thybulle locked Peyton up,” Nowell said. “He couldn’t get around him and lost the ball. When I saw the ball rolling on the ground, I just took it and make sure I got a shot up. But when he jumped past me, he grabbed the arm. Luckily the ref called it at that point in time.”
Nowell led UW with 20 pints and six rebounds. Crisp had 18 points on 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Noah Dickerson also finished in double figures with 11. Thybulle finished with seven assists, three steals and a block.
With a victory over Oregon State on Saturday, the Huskies would record their second road sweep of the season.
“We made the plays that we had to make and that’s what it’s all about,” Hopkins said. “Was it pretty? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But on the road, you’re just trying to get through it.”