Washington has one final tuneup before starting Pac-12 play Dec. 29 at USC. And expect an emphasis on defense when the Huskies host a Montana squad that already upset one Power Five conference team, Pittsburgh, this season.
The Huskies have built some momentum heading into conference play, winning seven of their last eight games including a stunning 74-65 upset of then No. 2-ranked Kansas in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 6. Washington’s only loss during that span was to No. 15 Gonzaga (97-70) and it comes in on a two-game win streak after a 106-55 rout of Bethune-Cookman on Tuesday at Alaska Airlines Arena. The Huskies outscored the Wildcats, 63-19, in the second half, connecting on 10-of-15 3-pointers in the process, but head coach Mike Hopkins was more happy with his team’s defensive effort. “At halftime we challenged our team to don’t gamble any more,” Hopkins told the Seattle Times. “This isn’t like OK you score, we score, you score and we score. We challenged our team to be really solid defensively and quit gambling. Be in our positions and keep guys out of the lane. And guys did a really good job. To be a great team, it needs to be led by your defense.”
TV: 11 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
ABOUT MONTANA (7-4): The Grizzlies were picked third in the Big Sky’s coaches’ and media polls but served noticed they’ll be in the title hunt with the 83-78 overtime victory at Pitt on Nov. 13, its first win over a Power Five conference school since knocking off Oregon State in 2010. Junior guard Michael Oguine had a career-high 29 points in that win and is second on the team in scoring (15.3 points per game) behind another junior guard, Ahmaad Rorie (17.8), who was a second team All-Big Sky pick last season. Jamar Akoh, a 6-8, 253-pound transfer from Cal State Fullerton, also is averaging in double figures (11.1) while grabbing a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game.
ABOUT WASHINGTON (9-3): The Huskies are the only team in the NCAA to record 16 steals and 15 blocks in the same game this season after doing it in the win over Bethune-Cookman. Freshman guard Jaylen Nowell leads the team in scoring (17.3) and has made 6-of-9 3-pointers over the last two games. Junior forward Noah Dickerson (16.0 points), junior guard David Crisp (13.0) and junior guard Matisse Thybulle (11.2) are all returning starters averaging in double digits with the 6-8 Dickerson also leading the team in rebounding (8.0).
1. Thybulle has 42 steals this season and ranks third in the NCAA in that category with an average of 3.5 per game.
2. The Huskies have already matched their win total for the entire 2016-17 season when they finished 9-22.
3. Crisp, who leads the team in assists (43), also has made a team leading 26 3-pointers in 74 attempts (35.1 percent) this season and ranks sixth all-time at Washington in that category with 154 made treys.
PREDICTION: Washington 77, Montana 72