For one game at least, the Pac-12 proved their superiority over the Mountain West.
Washington, the Pac-12’s regular season champion, got 20 points and 12 boards from Noah Dickerson and 19 points and five assists from Jaylen Nowell as U-Dub rolled to a 78-61 win over Utah State.
The No. 9-seed Huskies advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011, where they will face, in all likelihood, No. 1-seed North Carolina.
This has not been a banner season for the Pac-12 conference. They managed to get just three teams into the NCAA tournament, and one of the three qualified via automatic bid. Think about that for a second. The only difference between the Pac-12 and, say, the Mountain West or the Ohio Valley this year was that Oregon knocked off the Huskies in the Pac-12 title game.
But Washington’s win is a sign of life, and the way they earned that win is notable. Washington jumped to a 12 point halftime lead and, with the exception of one second half Utah State run, held a sizable lead for the entire second half. They took Sam Merrill completely out of his comfort zone — he entered the night having averaged 27 points in his last five games and finished with ten points on 2-for-10 shooting with six turnovers — and Neemias Queta finished with 11 points and eight boards, but he was 4-for-12 from the field and never seemed to find a rhythm.
Part of the reason for this was Washington’s zone.
It’s not a secret that the reason Jim Boeheim originally made the decision to go to a zone full time was because of the position that it put his opponents in. Every team’s zone offense is their second best offense, and no one in college basketball is ever comfortable playing against a zone. So he figured he would just do it all the time, and eventually it morphed into the defense that has allowed the Orange to be a pesky team in the NCAA tournament seemingly every year.
Might that be the case for Washington, too?
It’s not a secret that the Huskies are coached by a Boeheim disciple in Mike Hopkins, and anyone that watched the Huskies play on Friday night will know just how much trouble Utah State has with that defense.
If this is the start of Washington perennially playing deep into March, I hope it means we get more plays like this: