BOULDER, Colo. — If their latest win is an indicator, then the Huskies may benefit from a challenging nonconference schedule that included a blowout defeat at No. 11 Auburn and a last-second loss at No. 1 Gonzaga.
Washington displayed dominance and poise while dispensing a 69-53 drubbing against Utah on Thursday, which snapped a five-game losing streak at Huntsman Center.
The Huskies led for 38 minutes and when the Utes attempted a comeback, UW never lost control of the game and retaliated with a decisive 12-0 run midway in the second half for the knockout.
“Basically what coach told us is we played the second hardest nonconference (schedule) and that was going to prepare us for conference,” said sophomore guard Nahziah Carter, who led UW with a career-high 18 points on Thursday. “I just feel like that’s what did it and helped us with our poise on the road.”
It hadn’t always been this way.
In November, Washington fell apart in the final moments against Minnesota and surrendered a game-winning 3-pointer with two seconds remaining. And the Huskies didn’t show up offensively last month while absorbing a 73-61 setback against No. 13 Virginia Tech in Atlantic City, N.J.
But coach Mike Hopkins insists the Huskies (11-4, 2-0 Pac-12) have learned from those hard lessons.
“We’re growing and we’re getting better,” he said. “You start getting contributions from seven, eight, nine guys, it’s going to be a big thing going forward. … The things about really great teams is it’s going to be a different guy every night.”
Next up is Colorado (10-5, 1-2) and a chance for Washington to extend its four-game winning streak and collect its third ever road sweep since the Pac-12 expanded in 2011-12.
The last time it happened was in 2013 when the Huskies won 62-47 at California before beating Stanford 65-60.
However, Hopkins isn’t interested in rehashing UW’s past failures.
“I just want to win every game,” the second-year coach said. “People talk about these road trips and people talk about history. I just know we give them a game plan. We prepare them and then they got to go out and execute.
“The good sign is that in the last two games you see some momentum. You see sharing the ball.”
Washington finished with 16 assists — one shy of its season high — and a season-low-tying eight turnovers against Utah. In its previous outing, an 85-67 win over Washington State, the Huskies had 17 assists and 11 turnovers.
The recent good ball movement has been beneficial for UW, which is averaging 77 points in the past three games.
“That’s huge for us because that means that everybody is having fun,” Carter said earlier this week. “There’s nobody that’s not getting touches and you know how sometimes that goes. People are human. So when things are like that (several players are scoring), I just feel like we’re too tough to beat.”
The old adage in Pac-12 basketball says the trick to navigating the 18-game conference schedule and claiming the regular-season title is to win every game at home while collecting splits on the road.
But Hopkins isn’t prone to convention.
“I don’t look at splits,” he said. “I look at we have an opportunity to win every game that we play this year. We really do. We’re the most veteran team in the league. We got some really good talent. Our young guys are getting better. Our bench is deep and it can be a different guy every night.
“Doesn’t mean we’re going to win them all, but at the end of the day that’s how you have to prepare.”
Only five Pac-12 teams have swept the Utah-Colorado road trip, which is the second fewest in the conference behind the swing through Arizona and Arizona State.
The road trip to the mountain-region schools is particularly challenging because teams must fly between games and the mile-high elevation can be a daunting x-factor.
“Every road trip is hard,” Hopkins said. “They put their elevation on their (buildings), I don’t know just go play basketball. It’s a game. You just got to go out and play. Mountains, in the ocean, wherever you want to play.
“You want to play on an aircraft carrier? Let’s go. You want to go to Alaska? Let’s play outside. It’s basketball.”
Hopkins added: “The key is you got to get these guys rest. You got to get them in the hotel room. You got to get them to study table. They got to eat. Get ready for preparation and then, let’s go kick some butt.”