It was an emotional scene as the clock wound down in the Huskies loss to powerhouse North Carolina in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament. The game was out of reach at that point, so head coach Mike Hopkins decided to take the seniors out of the game one last time. The four seniors were greeted to a standing ovation of the crowd in Columbus, Ohio, including the Husky faithful who made the trip to watch the team’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012.
Two years ago, this team — with the same core of players — finished in last place with a record of 9–21. That’s when Hopkins was brought in as the new head coach to try and turn the program around. Back then, his first priority was to convince this year’s seniors to stay at UW instead of transfering to another school for a new opportunity.
Although this was a tough task for Hopkins to face, he successfully brought back all four players in the class of 2019 — Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, and Dominic Green. This core decided to be apart of the change and help bring the UW men’s basketball program back to national prominence. However, the success was not expected to happen this quickly. In just two years, Hopkins brought the Huskies back to where they belong in the NCAA tournament.
The Huskies two game run in the tournament included a 78–61 win in the first round over Mountain West champion Utah State. Dickerson lead the Dawgs with 20 points and 12 rebounds, with sophomore Jaylen Nowell alongside him with 19 points of his own. Although those two lead the team in scoring, it was sophomore Nahziah Carter coming off the bench who stepped up in a big way for the team. His teammate Crisp recognized the effort by Carter after the game.
“He literally changed the game,” said Crisp. “We went on a drought stretch where we couldn’t get nothing to go. Things were getting a little bit stagnant and he took over.”
Not only was this the school’s first tournament appearance since 2012, but also their first win in that timespan — the perfect way for the team’s seniors to leave UW, and leave behind a legacy of commitment and determination to put Washington basketball back on the map.
Although they would have liked to see themselves make it farther in the tournament, the team accomplished a lot throughout the season. The biggest was Thybulle breaking the all time Pac 12 steal record, passing Sonics legend Gary Payton as well as his own record from when he played at Oregon State. This year was also the programs second straight 20 win season — something that hasn’t been accomplished here in years.
Even after the loss to North Carolina, Thybulle had nothing but positive words to say about his experience playing in the tournament for the first time in his college career.
“Everyone comes into college saying you want to play on this stage and be able to win your league and be able to say you’re a champion,” said Thybulle. “I was able to accomplish all that this year with three seniors. Three of my senior teammates who we’ve been through it all together.”
Even with the losses of the four seniors and Nowell who recently announced he was declaring for the NBA draft — as long as Coach Hopkins is here, this program has a very bright future ahead. The team saw flashes of star potential from Carter and other underclassmen to go along with the addition of a top ten recruiting class. This is just the beginning of a very good run for UW hoops.