The run. The win. The berth in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game.
All because of defense — and the conference’s defensive player of the year.
Top-seeded Washington overcame a 33-27 halftime deficit against No. 5 Colorado on Friday night at T-Mobile Arena to score a 66-61 semifinal victory and advance to Saturday’s final against Oregon, which defeated Arizona State 79-75 in overtime.
Senior Matisse Thybulle, who holds Pac-12 records for career steals and steals in a season, helped key a 25-5 run at the beginning of the second half and finished with 12 points, three blocks and a steal before fouling out with 3:10 to play.
“When you’ve got the national defensive player of the year (in Thybulle), and he should win it, it changes things,” Huskies coach Mike Hopkins said. “That’s why we win. It’s been our defense all season.”
Thybulle, a 6-foot-5-inch wing with a 7-foot wingspan, is a four-year starter for the Huskies and the second player in league history to win two straight Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year awards. He’s averaging 9.3 points, 3.6 steals and 2.2 blocks this season. He broke Jason Kidd’s conference record for steals in a season (116) and equaled Gary Payton’s career steals record (321) this week.
Those two basketball legends combined for 18 selections to NBA all-defensive teams.
Not bad company for a college kid to keep.
“You always have to know where he is on the floor. He can affect the game in a lot of different ways,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “He’s a special defender, there’s no doubt about that. And he was good tonight.”
Thybulle pressures on the perimeter and protects the paint in Washington’s zone defense and led a spirited defensive effort in the second half. The Buffaloes missed their first nine shots after halftime and committed seven turnovers during the Huskies’ run.
Colorado shot 20 percent from the field in the second half, 13 percent from 3-point range.
“In order to do things like that, you have to be so locked in that it’s hard to focus on the numbers like that,” Thybulle said. “When you’re in the moment and you’re playing that hard, you don’t realize really what’s going on, you’re just reacting and hustling.”
The Buffaloes rallied late in the second half — after Thybulle fouled out — but fell short despite 22 points and 16 rebounds from Las Vegas native Tyler Bey.
Hopkins praised Colorado and then praised his defensive stopper, who was selected Thursday as one of four finalists for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award.
“It should be a done deal,” Hopkins said.
Oregon 79, Arizona State 75 — Louis King scored 19 points and Payton Prichard 18 to propel the Ducks to an overtime victory over the Sun Devils.
Oregon led by as many as 12 points in the first half, but Arizona State rallied in the second half to take a 64-57 lead behind Remy Martin and Zylan Cheatham, who scored 14 points apiece.
Ehab Amin made the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:35 to play in regulation, and the Ducks opened the extra session with a 9-1 run.