SEATTLE (AP) — Washington proved during its nonconference schedule it’s comfortable playing in close games and figuring out a way to come out ahead.
Even those games that are closer than they should be and leave their head coach a little anxious.
“Everybody laugh. I need a stress relief,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said after the Huskies held off Montana 66-63 on Friday night.
Jaylen Nowell scored 13 points and Hameir Wright added 11 points, five rebounds and four blocks off the bench as the Huskies overcame a sloppy effort to get past the Grizzlies in their final game before the start of Pac-12 Conference play next week.
The Huskies (10-3) topped their entire win total from last year, but getting that 10th win wasn’t easy as the Huskies had just one field goal over the final 7½ minutes. Washington made just enough from the free-throw line and made some key defensive stops to hold off Montana.
“That’s pretty much been the story of our team this year just finding a way to win,” Washington guard David Crisp said. “Time after time we’ve made big plays in the end to help us get a win.”
Montana had its chances late to pull off its second upset of a power conference team on the road this season. The Grizzlies won at Pittsburgh to open the season, but scored just one point in the final 4:14 against the Huskies. It was a disappointing conclusion to a gutty effort.
“I mean, we fought, and that is the only thing you can ask for in this type of game,” Montana guard Ahmaad Rorie said. “It was hostile, and a lot of guys had never really played in this kind of environment. We’ve just got to clean up some little things to get better.”
Rorie led Montana (7-5) with 19 points and Jamar Akoh added 17, but the Grizzlies only point in the final four minutes came on Michael Oguine’s free throw with 5.2 seconds left.
Oguine was fouled by Crisp with the Huskies holding a 64-62 lead. Oguine hit the first free throw but left the second short. Washington got the rebound and Matisse Thybulle hit two free throws in the final moments to seal the victory.
Washington won its sixth straight in the series. Montana’s last victory over the Huskies came in 1994 in a game played in Missoula.
Washington had every chance to pull away and could never create enough of a cushion to be comfortable. Akoh’s rebound follow basket and Rorie’s driving layup with 5:03 remaining pulled the Grizzlies within 61-60. Akoh grabbed another offensive rebound on Montana’s next possession and his basket underneath gave the Griz their first lead since late in the first half.
Nowell answered with a 15-footer with 3:01 left and it was the last made shot by either team. Montana appeared to take the lead on Oguine’s driving layup with 1:13 left, but he was called for an offensive foul. Washington was called for a shot-clock violation — its third straight possession with a turnover — and the Griz had the ball with 43 seconds left down one.
Rorie got into the lane as the shot clock was winding down, but his driving attempt was challenged and missed with 17 seconds left. Washington got the rebound and Crisp was fouled. Crisp made 1 of 2 free throws for a 64-62 lead and then fouled Oguine at the other end with 5 seconds left.
“Before January we’ve won some close games and we’re lucky tonight we didn’t let one bite us,” Hopkins said. “But I’ve got to give our guys a lot of credit. They made the plays they had to.”
Washington went with just a seven-man rotation because of Wright’s effort. The freshman made 4 of 8 shots and played 26 minutes. He was critical during a four-minute stretch of the second half where he scored nine of Washington’s 11 points.
Montana: The Griz will lament their turnovers, especially in the closing minutes. Montana committed 20 turnovers and had 11 shots blocked by Washington. The 20 turnovers tied a season-high.
Washington: The Huskies got a scare when Nowell appeared to twist his ankle midway through the second half. He stayed down on the court for a few moments before limping off. He returned with 5:03 left. It wasn’t Nowell’s best night even before being injured. The freshman was just 6-of-16 shooting.
Montana: The Griz open Big Sky play next Thursday at Northern Arizona.
Washington: The Huskies open conference play next Friday at USC.