KANSAS CITY, Mo. — First-year Washington coach Mike Hopkins saw how Kansas dissected Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense last week, so he made a couple tweaks to his own version before facing the Jayhawks on Wednesday night.
Primarily, Hopkins stretched the zone to take away the 3-pointer.
It worked to perfection.
The Huskies frustrated the Jayhawks’ dangerous lineup of deep threats, Matisse Thybulle hit five-pointers and scored 19 points, and Washington kept its poise down the stretch for a 74-65 victory that knocked No. 2 Kansas from the ranks of the unbeaten.
“We’ve been very fortunate this year to play a lot of teams that shoot 30 and 35 3-pointers. It’s really the kryptonite of the zone,” said Hopkins, who spent 22 years on Jim Boeheim’s staff at Syracuse, a tenure that came in handy considering the Jayhawks just beat the Orange.
“I felt like this could be our best opportunity to win the game,” Hopkins said.
Jaylen Nowell also had 15 points, and Noah Dickerson added 13 points and 14 rebounds, as the Huskies (7-2) beat the Jayhawks (7-1) for the first time since December 1974.
“We really just didn’t have it tonight. You have to give them credit,” the Jayhawks’ Devonte Graham said. “They made every shot and they did a good job of not letting us get comfortable.”
Lagerald Vick had a career-high 28 points for Kansas, doing almost all his damage in the middle of the Huskies’ zone. But he didn’t get a whole lot of help as the Jayhawks went 5 for 20 from the 3-point arc, lowlighted by lousy performances from their two best sharpshooters.
Graham, coming off back-to-back 35-point outbursts, was held to three points on 1-for-8 shooting, while Svi Mykhailiuk was 3 for 12 from the field and scored eight points before fouling out.
“They took everybody away but Lagerald — ‘See if you can beat us,’” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I thought our defense was horrendous and our hustle plays weren’t very good either.”
In truth, the Jayhawks had little trouble getting Vick open shots in the middle of the zone. The problem came in that he was just 12 of 23 from the field, even though most of the shots were bunnies.
Throw in foul trouble that sent the Jayhawks’ two big men, Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot, to the bench well before halftime and it was no surprise the Huskies took a 36-34 lead into the break.
Washington kept the pressure on early in the second half, pushing its lead to 52-44 with 12:10 to go in the game, before the Jayhawks finally turned up the defensive intensity. Vick got going again inside and Azubuike’s slam of an alley-oop pass trimmed their deficit to 53-52 with 9 1/2 minutes remaining.
The Huskies calmed back down after a timeout, though, stretching their lead again. Thybulle got loose for a transition dunk, Dickerson added a slam of his own, and Hameir Wright’s 3-pointer from the wing made it 69-56 — their biggest lead to that point.
Even when the Jayhawks caught a break, like a technical foul on David Crisp in the closing minutes, they couldn’t capitalize. Graham missed both free throws with a chance to cut into a 73-59 deficit, and Mykhailiuk promptly missed a 3-point attempt as the Huskies put the game away.
“You could see this coming,” Self said. “When we’re energized and moving the ball and everybody is playing with energy, I think we’re a nice team. But when we’re not, we get average real quick.”
Kansas fans headed toward the exits with several minutes left, a rarity for the program. But it didn’t surprise the Jayhawks’ coach.
“If I would have paid to see that,” Self said, “I probably would have wanted something to drink long before there was 2 minutes left.”
Washington sure didn’t look like the team that struggled to put away Seattle, California-Davis and Omaha in recent weeks. The Huskies were clearly amped up to play the first of back-to-back games against premier programs with Gonzaga on deck next.