Ninth-seeded Washington married its usually good defense with an unusually proficient performance on offense Friday night, scoring a 78-61 win over eighth-seeded Utah State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Four players scored in double figures for the Huskies (27-8), which will meet the Iona-North Carolina winner on Sunday in a Midwest Region second-round game. Noah Dickerson led the way with a 20-point, 12-rebound double-double, the 24th of his career.
Jaylen Nowell scored 19 points while adding five rebounds and five assists. Nahziah Carter came off the bench to add 13 points and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Matisse Thybulle chipped in 10.
Most importantly, Thybulle and his teammates put the clamps on the Aggies’ best player, 6-5 junior guard Sam Merrill. Coming into the game averaging nearly 28 ppg in his last five games, Merrill didn’t score until the midway point of the second half and managed only 10 points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Brock Miller paced Utah State (28-7) with 13 points, while freshman center Neemias Queta added 11 to go along with nine rebounds. Abel Porter contributed 10 points.
Washington canned 49 percent of its field goals, including an outstanding 10-of-17 on 3-pointers, and limited the Aggies to 19 of 54 shooting from the field. It forced 21 turnovers.
Utah State owned the lead for most of the first 10 minutes, leading by as many as six points just over four minutes into the game. But the Aggies began to have problems hanging on to the ball and Washington started turning defense into offense.
Beginning with a stickback by Dickerson at the 8:42 mark that gave them an 18-17 edge, the Huskies put their stamp on the first half’s remainder. They forced 11 turnovers and used their length to block or alter a spate of attempts around the bucket.
Washington ended the half with a 13-3 spurt in a span of 4:57. Dickerson’s layup off a Carter pass with two seconds left sent it to the locker room with a 40-28 advantage.
—Field Level Media