Imagine taking a business trip to a familiar city. There’s a certain routine you follow when it comes to hotels and restaurants. Except on this particular trip, you have a new boss. All of a sudden, the familiar gets replaced with something new.
Welcome to Washington’s first Pac-12 trip under Mike Hopkins. The Huskies’ maiden conference voyage away from Seattle ended with a 1-1 mark against USC and UCLA and some new experiences.
Go a bit deeper and the trip was about Hopkins getting to know more about his team as a collective and certain players as individuals. And for the players, they learned more about their first-year coach and what it will take to win more games away from Alaska Airlines Arena.
“I know how hard it is to win on the road and what’s realistic,” Hopkins said. “Part of this thing is if we’re ever going to do that, you gotta believe you can do it. Trying to get there is the team’s mindset. That’s (the coaching staff’s) mindset too.”
The Huskies (11-4 overall, 1-1 Pac-12) have made strides under Hopkins. A year ago, they went 9-22 and won just two conference games. UW has already surpassed last season’s win total. A win Saturday in Pullman against Washington State ties the Huskies’ Pac-12 mark from the 2016-17 campaign.
Consistently winning on the road is UW’s next hurdle. Hopkins has guided the team to a 9-1 mark at home, but the Huskies are 2-3 away from Seattle.
UW dropped consecutive games in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden. Weeks later, it beat then-No. 2 Kansas in Kansas City, Mo., before they earned a split in Los Angeles last weekend.
“I think we’re confident no matter where we play,” junior forward Noah Dickerson said. “Our coaches give us that confidence. Defense wins games. Defense wins championships and our defense can translate anywhere we play. The biggest takeaway is that defense wins games.”
Start with the Huskies’ 88-81 win over the Trojans to open the trip.
Dickerson was one of five players who scored 10 or more points. Washington shot a blistering 67.3 percent from the field and 8 of 16 from 3. USC shot a healthy 48.4 percent from the floor, yet was 3 of 20 for 15 percent from beyond the arc.
Move ahead to the 74-53 loss to UCLA. To Dickerson’s point, the Huskies’ defense held up. The Bruins only shot 43.1 percent and were 35.7 percent on their 3-pointers. UW was strong enough to hold UCLA under its season averages in field goal and 3-point percentage.
The Huskies’ shooting, however, abandoned them. They finished 27.9 percent from the floor and a dismal 7.4 percent from 3.
“We can play with anybody. Our defense is hard to score against,” Dickerson said. “Some nights, like (the UCLA game), the shots don’t fall.”
Playing actual games was only one part of what made the first Pac-12 trip under Hopkins important.
The trip gave Hopkins a chance to get a feel for the conference and his players an opportunity to experience something old in a new manner.
Hopkins said he also wanted to use this trip as a “bonding experience.” He had the group sit down and watch the Huskies football team play Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl on their off day.
“Sometimes, you have games that can feel like a vacation,” Hopkins said. “You kind of get away. Sun is out. Beach is there. I just think any time you can spend a lot of time with your team it is a great thing.”
Hopkins, a Southern California native, wanted the team to meet his family. He even got a chance to meet some of his players’ families. Dickerson, after the UCLA game, got a chance to see family and even take a group photo with his twin brother and their friends.
Dickerson said it was different to do a trip with Hopkins compared to former coach Lorenzo Romar.
He said the Huskies are staying at different hotels and are also on a different routine under Hopkins.
“I think we’re all adapting pretty well,” Dickerson said.