This Saturday, Feb. 23, the Colorado Buffaloes (16-10, 7-7 Pac-12) take on the Washington Huskies (21-5, 12-1 Pac-12) at the Alaska Airlines Center in Seattle. The CUI’s Justin Guerriero spoke with The Daily of the University of the Washington’s Chris Angkico to get some insider information on the Huskies.
Justin Guerriero: Washington ranks first within the Pac-12 and is undefeated at home. What has made this team so dominant in 2018-19?
Chris Angkico: I think that this team’s dominance stems from its experience. The rotation is basically the exact same one from a year ago, but everyone in it has improved. One player that has made significant strides over the course of his UW career, and this year especially, is point guard David Crisp. When you watch him play, it’s clear that he’s learned how to better pick his spots on the court and be a leader for his team, and his poise transfers to everyone around him.
JG: What happened versus Washington State last weekend? The Huskies rallied after a poor first half to take down WSU, 72-70. Do you think that was just a fluke game or did it illustrate any exploitable weaknesses that the Huskies have?
CA: Coming off of Washington’s loss to Arizona State, the WSU game was really the first time in Pac-12 play this season that the Huskies had some bad juju coming in, and in the first half it showed. Outside shooting was a big problem for the Huskies last year, and that creeped its way in against the Cougars, but in the end, this team is resilient and seems to be able to play through just about any slump. You can tell that they learned a lot from the collapse they had in conference play in 2018, and they’re showing they don’t want anything like that to happen again in 2019.
JG: UW’s zone defense is renowned. Who are the Huskies’ defensive standouts and what makes their defense so effective overall?
CA: If you want to talk standouts on the defensive end, Matisse Thybulle is clearly chief among them. He was recently named a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, and at this point it feels like he can get 10 steals in a game before you can blink. I’m very comfortable saying his anticipation skills on defense are the best I have ever seen from any player, college or pro. I have absolutely no idea how he does it, but he has this natural instinct to know when someone is going to throw a pass his way a couple of seconds before they throw it, and before you know it, he has the ball in his hands, and the Huskies are on the break.
JG: When the Buffs and Huskies tip off on Saturday, who (can certainly be more than one person) on UW’s roster will Colorado need to pay particular attention to?
CA: Noah Dickerson didn’t really do that much in the first game against Colorado, scoring only seven points. But Dickerson has found his form recently, putting up double-figures in seven of his last nine games. The Huskies’ overall improvement in outside shooting has taken a lot of the pressure off of Dickerson inside, as he sees less double teams these days, allowing him more room to operate. He could be dangerous against Colorado if the UW is shooting decently on the perimeter.
JG: Anyone on the Buffaloes’ roster that players and coaches have been spending extra time to prepare for?
CA: I think that the beauty of this Washington team is that the coaching staff and the players are always in sync in terms of who needs to be keyed in on from the opposing team. To my understanding, McKinley Wright has been having some good games recently, as has Tyler Bey, relative of UW freshman Jamal Bey. I’m quite sure that head coach Mike Hopkins and his staff have been watching film and have probably already figured out who needs to be stopped. They haven’t talked about anyone specifically in the press conferences leading up to this game, but they have a plan in place.
JG: For Colorado, which is hoping to finish the regular season in fourth place or better within the Pac-12 heading into the conference tourney, the way Saturday versus UW goes down could either be a major victory for the Buffs or a big blow as the season winds down. Do you foresee any chance of CU pulling of the upset?
CA: The first game between the two teams in Boulder was a close one, and it came at a time where the Huskies were still trying to figure things out in a sense. But now, I think that Hopkins’ team knows exactly what it is and the coaching staff can identify how they’re going to beat anyone on any given night. Couple that with the fact that this game will be played from the friendly confines of Hec Ed, a place they haven’t lost all year, it would take a Herculean effort from the Buffs if they want to pull off an upset.
JG: Two seasons ago, Washington finished 9-22. I think for many of us looking in from the outside, this year’s team very much seems to have come out of nowhere. What’s your take? Did you expect the team to be so good in the preseason? Do you think players and coaches are even somewhat pleasantly surprised?
CA: Washington did start out the season ranked No. 25, and I think that people around here thought that was a bad omen, including myself. People feared that the Huskies would crumble amongst the high expectations set for them, but they have certainly surprised everybody. Oddly enough, I’m not sure if they’ve surprised themselves too much. The culture Hopkins has established in the program has made winning the number one focus, but they have fun doing it, which is evident when you see them on the bench talking to each other. This iteration of Washington basketball has put the program in prime position to dominate the Pac-12 for years to come, but it remains to be seen if they can truly compete on the national stage, which will be the next big test.
The Buffaloes and Huskies tip off at 8 p.m. MST from Seattle.
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ThrHunry_Hippo
Contact The Daily’s Chris Angkico at email@example.com