TEMPE, Ariz. — Matisse Thybulle or Zion Williamson?
In the past few games, the Washington senior guard has put himself in the conversation with the Duke star freshman for the national defensive player of the year award.
Thybulle is averaging six steals over the past four games entering Saturday’s contest at Arizona State, including a virtuoso performance Thursday at Arizona when he registered five steals, five blocks while also finishing with 15 points, three three-pointers, two rebounds and two assists.
“He’s like a lottery number,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “He’s an incredible player. … He finally got some national recognition.”
Thybulle, who won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award last year, is starting to build a national resume.
Earlier this week, ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas tweeted: “Watching tape of Washington’s Matisse Thybulle is an absolute pleasure. He is a defensive genius. How can the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year be underrated? He is. A great player that can dominate a game without scoring.”
Thybulle, who ranks third nationally entering Saturday with 3.23 steals per game and is tied for 30th with a 2.09 blocks average, is virtually a shoo-in to win a second straight defensive conference player of the year award.
However, the UW senior is making a push for bigger awards with five weeks remaining in the regular season.
“I think he’s the national player of the year and I don’t think it’s close,” Hopkins said. “We’re doing research right now looking back at the last 20 years of the top defensive player of the years in the Power 5 conferences and go look and see at what their takeaways are.
“I guarantee it’s not even close to his blocks and steals. He’s a disruptor. He’s the key to our defense. He just sets the tone.”
Heading into Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Arizona State (15-7, 6-4 Pac-12), Washington (19-4, 10-0) has the top defense in the Pac-12 in large part due to Thybulle.
In conference games, the Huskies have allowed 60.8 points per game and just 28.5 percent shooting on three-pointers — both league lows.
Washington, which had won 12 straight games entering Saturday, has also forced a conference-best 17.1 turnovers per game.
“When you know you have a guy like this, we feed off his energy,” guard David Crisp said. “He sets the tone defensively. He’s the best I’ve seen at it. We just make sure that we’ve got his back.”
Crisp, who played at Rainier Beach High, spent two years battling against Thybulle, an Eastside Catholic product, in high school so he knows what UW opponents feel when they have to combat the 6-foot-5 guard with the 7-foot wingspan.
And yet, Crisp is continually amazed when Thybulle is able to dominate games like he did Thursday at Arizona.
“Honestly it’s funny because you would think they would be more aware,” Crisp said. “After a guy blocks my shot two times, maybe I’ll do something else. I learned in high school. He blocked my first two shots the first time we ever played and I said all right, let me start pump faking or trying something different.”
Thybulle, who averages 10.0 points, went through scoring droughts early in the season, but he’s tallying 14.3 points in the past four games.
“We’re moving the ball and sharing the ball and it’s going to the open guy and that guy is knocking down the shot,” said Thybulle who has hit three three-pointers in each of the past two games. “It’s nothing more complicated than that. When the ball is moving like that, everybody gets good shots.”