Matisse Thybulle can now add one more achievement to his growing list from this season.
The Washington Huskies junior guard was named Monday the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Earlier in the day, he was named to the conference’s all-defensive team.
“We gotta give a lot of credit to (Huskies coach Mike Hopkins) and the whole team in general,” Thybulle said about being an all-defensive selection. “Without them ... for me to do what I’ve been able to defensively.”
He’s the first player in school history to win the award, which was restarted in the 2007-08 season after it was discontinued following the 1986-87 campaign.
Never miss a local story.
Thybulle leads the Pac-12 in steals for second straight season. He averaged 2.1 steals as sophomore. This year, he leads the Pac-12 with 3.0 steals and is third nationally behind Fordham’s Joseph Chartouny and Florida International’s Brian Beard Jr.
Thybulle’s 92 steals on the year is the sixth-highest total in a single-season in Pac-12 history. Former California star Jason Kidd holds the record with 110.
Thybulle also averaged 1.4 blocks per game. In all, he logged a career-best 31.7 minutes while scoring 10.7 points. Thybulle’s presence is one of the reasons the Huskies went from 9-22 last season to 20-11 this year and have earned the No. 7 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament.
“I say the zone has helped a lot,” Thybulle said. “A lot of people don’t remember but I led the Pac-12 in steals last year but I didn’t average nearly as many as I had this year. Coach Hop just put me in a great position just to showcase what I’m capable of doing and it’s highlighted all my strengths defensively.”
An improved defense was a major part of UW’s turnaround under Hopkins. The longtime former Syracuse assistant was hired due in part to his defensive-minded approach. Between his time as a player and an assistant, he spent more than 20 seasons learning under College Basketball Hall of Fame and Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member Jim Boeheim, who amassed more than 900 career wins by using the zone defense.
Defense was a concern for the Huskies. They were 330th out of 351 Division I teams in 2016-17 after allowing 81.1 points per game. Hopkins and his staff used the offseason and preseason to install the 2-3 zone. As some players grew into their roles, Thybulle was an immediate success.
Thybulle’s performances within the Huskies’ setup were highlighted after he made school history in the team’s upset in early December over then-No. 2 Kansas in Kansas City, Mo.
“You don’t really want to throw (a pass) toward him. You don’t want to,” said junior forward Noah Dickerson, who was making a case for why Thybulle should win the Defensive Player of the Year award. “My man is really out there in coverage. People get mad (in practice) because you don’t throw it to them and it’s like, ‘Man. It’s Matisse right there. I don’t know if you’re really open.’
“’You can put your hand up all you want but I don’t know if you’re really open.’”
At 6 feet, 5 inches, Thybulle came to UW with a bit of defensive reputation going back to when he was a high school star at Eastside Catholic.
Those skills translated to the collegiate game. He averaged 1.1 steals in his freshman year and 2.1 steals in his sophomore season. Thybulle told The News Tribune earlier in the year he was too aggressive at times in his first two seasons but had a better feel when it came to attacking the ball as a junior.
Between his height, a 7-foot wingspan and quick hands, it’s why Hopkins told the KJR Morning Show that Thybulle was already the best defensive guard he’s ever coached.
Thybulle, by Feb. 1, already shattered the school’s single-season record for most steals in a campaign. His 196 career steals are also the most in program history.
“He’s really good at reading the passing lanes,” Dickerson said of Thybulle. “My man is a freak of nature on the defensive end.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark