Washington’s Matisse Thybulle beats Kansas’ Clay Young (left) and Marcus Garrett to a rebound during the first half of Wednesday’s game in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Washington’s Matisse Thybulle beats Kansas’ Clay Young (left) and Marcus Garrett to a rebound during the first half of Wednesday’s game in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

UW’s Thybulle flourishing in Hopkins’ zone defense

The Huskies’ lanky forward is averaging 3.3 steals per game, which ranks sixth nationally.

What Matisse Thybulle did in the Washington men’s basketball team’s upset of No. 2 Kansas on Wednesday — scoring 19 points — is only part of the story of his season.

As first-year Washington coach Mike Hopkins builds his vision for the program, he’s trusting Thybulle to execute his defensive philosophies.

Hopkins’ profile as a defensive coach has led the Huskies (7-2) to operating out of a zone while using man-to-man when needed. Regardless of the scheme, Thybulle has flourished.

The junior forward is averaging 3.3 steals per game, which ranks sixth nationally. And he’s becoming a valuable piece of the Huskies’ success.

“I think Coach ‘Hop’ put us all in a great position to look good on defense just with the zone,” Thybulle said. “Other teams aren’t used to it, so, they get confused and thrown off. When teams are confused or hesitant on offense, then it makes it easier for us on defense.”

A year ago, the Huskies were 319th in defensive efficiency and 330th in points allowed. Through nine games, UW is 204th in efficiency and 241st in points.

UW’s enhanced focus is a mix of Hopkins’ new system and how he and his staff have worked with players on developing their defensive abilities.

“He’s got an incredible anticipation, an incredible feel and he can cover space like this,” said Hopkins, who snapped his fingers to demonstrate Thybulle’s quickness. “You saw him (against Nebraska-Omaha) — he was late and he still blocked the shot. That’s a God-given ability.

“I tell him all the time, ‘Use it. You’re a difference maker.’ ”

Like Hopkins said, Thybulle has the physical gifts needed to be a standout two-way player.

The slender former Eastside Catholic star stands at 6-foot-5 and weighs 195 pounds. He has the right fusion of quickness and strength to handle guards and wings.

His biggest tool is having a 7-foot wingspan which allows him to disrupt passing lanes and block shots.

“Coach Hop has given me a little bit of a leash to gamble a little bit and try and make plays,” Thybulle said. “I just try to take advantage of that and try to get stops.”

Another asset Thybulle has is knowing how to assess the landscape.

He admitted to being a bit too aggressive in his first two years at UW when it came to trying to force a turnover.

Thybulle averaged 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks in his freshman year. As a sophomore, he was averaging 2.1 steals and 0.7 blocks.

Sometimes, those failed attempts got him into foul trouble. He averaged 3.3 fouls in Year 1 and 2.9 last season.

Through nine games, he’s among the national leaders in steals. He’s averaging 1.7 blocks and is committing 1.7 fouls per game.

“He means so much to our team, not only on the defensive end, but he can score for us,” Hopkins said. “He can make shots.”

This is where his performance against Kansas becomes relevant.

Thybulle scored a career-high 19 points and had another personal best when he hit 5 of his 8 3-pointers.

So far this season, Thybulle has set career highs in points, steals, blocks, assists, rebounds and 3-pointers made. No Huskies player in the last 15 years has had season highs with those numbers over a full campaign, according to UW.

He also finished with four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block while playing 35 minutes against one of the best offenses in the nation.

Any time the Jayhawks tried making a run, Thybulle did something to quell their hopes.

KU cut UW’s lead to 39-36 early in the second half when Thybulle drilled a 3-pointer for a 42-36 lead. He kept menacing the Jayhawks before showing his full range with around eight minutes left.

Thybulle hit a 3 for a 60-52 lead with 8:03 left. Nearly a minute later, he fed Jaylen Nowell for a jumper and a 62-54 edge for UW’s largest lead of the game.

On the next KU possession, the Jayhawks tried kicking the ball out to guard Lagerald Vick at the top of the key but Thybulle had other plans. He poached the pass, flew down the court for an uncontested dunk and prompted KU coach Bell Self to call a timeout with his team down 64-54 with 6:55 left.

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