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Steve Lavin explains what makes UW Huskies’ Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle stars

Steve Lavin raved about UW Huskies guard Jaylen Nowell's passing. (AP)

Former UCLA head men’s basketball coach Steve Lavin knows a few things about impressive guards. During his time with the Bruins, he coached some pretty good ones – two-time NBA All-Star Baron Davis, 2001 Seattle Sonics draft pick Earl Watson and current UW Huskies assistant coach Cameron Dollar being among the more notable.

UW Huskies’ Matisse Thybulle talks Washington’s fast start

So when Lavin, now a college basketball analyst with FOX Sports and the Pac-12 Network, raves about a pair of Huskies guards in Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle, it’s high praise.

Lavin was on the call for the Pac-12 leader’s 75-62 win over USC on Wednesday, and he joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Groz and Tom to talk about what he saw from a Huskies team on a 10-game win streak, including eight straight to open conference play.

Here’s a closer look at what he said about head coach Mike Hopkins’ Washington squad.

Fan of Jaylen Nowell

Lavin made a big show of how much he thinks of Nowell during the broadcast of the Huskies’ win over USC, and he further explained why to Bob, Groz and Tom.

“He’s as impressive a guard as I’ve seen this year and really in recent years,” Lavin said. “Jaylen Nowell has the gifts of things that you can’t teach – the fluidity, the ease, the precision of his passes. He throws darts. The change of pace, the shiftiness. The length and size to be a factor at both ends of the floor. And he’s just playing chess out there. There’s that old chess vs. checkers – he’s at another level as a processor on the move with the ball in his hands and the judgments and the choices he’s making.”

Lavin also believes that Nowell will prove to be invaluable should the Huskies end their seven-year NCAA Tournament drought, as they are poised to do with a 17-4 overall record entering Saturday’s game against UCLA.

“He’s the type of player that can carry you to the Elite Eight, get you to that second weekend of play (in the NCAA Tournament), put a team on his shoulders. He tends to rise up in the big moments. … Jaylen Nowell, he’s what could be the difference-maker for them when they get into the NCAA Tournament.”

Matisse Thybulle’s value to UW’s zone

Senior guard Thybulle, already the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, has proven to be one of the best defensive players in the country with 3.0 steals per game (fourth in the NCAA) and 2.1 blocks per game, prompting Lavin to compare to him an eight-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection.

“He has like a Bruce Bowen future because of his length, his instincts defensively, the ability to really harass (and) disrupt,” Lavin said of the 6-foot-5 Thybulle.

The Huskies rely on an aggressive 2-3 zone Hopkins brought to the program from Syracuse, and Thybulle is one of the main reasons it has been so successful this season.

“Thybulle being within that zone is what unnerves, discombobulates opponents and they make people look disjointed, because it’s a different look,” Lavin said. “You don’t see that zone unless you’re playing Syracuse or Washington.”

Why UW is a top 25 team, even if it’s currently unranked

“They’re playing in a cohesive manner. Such a good fit with the zone defense that Mike Hopkins has brought west with him,” Lavin said. “Offensively they’ve been uneven but getting better. Their shooting numbers, you look at the analytics, they’re improving.”

Noah Dickerson, whose 21-point effort against USC was his first 20-point game since Dec. 2, is averaging over two points less per game than a year ago, but Lavin doesn’t see that as a bad thing.

“Dickerson obviously (Wednesday) night was outstanding – that’s encouraging, a good sign. But the fact that his numbers aren’t as high as past years is an indication that it’s a more balanced team, a better team, and it’s why they’re having success,” Lavin said. “I really like the cohesive kind of approach; they’re tied together and you can tell there’s a selflessness that’s at work. And again, they have room to improve. That’s one of the reasons I like them, is I don’t think they’re even close to maximizing their ability. They’re gonna get better as the year goes along.”

To hear the full interview with Lavin, click here.

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