UW men aware bigger tests are coming

The Huskies are 5-0 in Pac-12 play, but most the wins have come against teams struggling this season.

Washington’s Jaylen Nowell (center) drives between California’s Justice Sueing (left) and Paris Austin during the first half of a game on Jan. 19, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Washington’s Jaylen Nowell (center) drives between California’s Justice Sueing (left) and Paris Austin during the first half of a game on Jan. 19, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

By Lauren Kirschman / The News Tribune

SEATTLE — With its win over Cal on Saturday, Washington secured its best start in Pac-12 play since the 1983-84 season when it opened 6-0.

The Huskies are in first place in the conference, the lone undefeated team remaining. Their NET ranking — the new algorithm used to evaluate college basketball teams — keeps rising, too. At No. 40, UW is the highest ranked Pac-12 team.

After the victory over the Golden Bears, Matisse Thybulle and Dominic Green were asked about the undefeated start, the now seven-game winning streak.

Does all of that mean anything?

“No,” Thybulle said. “It’s a great accomplishment. But none of these things are going to change how we do when we get into a game.

“The only thing I think our standings in the Pac-12 and our record so far in conference does is we’re getting everyone’s best shot. It makes them want to beat us even more and that means we have to play even better so we’re accepting the challenge and we’re going to take it head on. It’s exciting.”

UW’s schedule only gets more difficult from here. Four of the first five teams it faced — Stanford, Colorado, Washington State and Cal — are at the bottom of the conference standings and have just four conference wins combined. The other opponent, Utah, is 2-2 in Pac-12 play.

The Huskies will now head on the road to face Oregon (11-7, 2-3 Pac-12) and Oregon State (11-6, 3-2). Then, they return home to play USC (10-8, 3-2) and UCLA (10-8, 3-2) before traveling to Arizona (14-5, 5-1) and Arizona State (13-5, 4-2). With one conference loss, Arizona is alone in second place.

What UW has done so far, said head coach Mike Hopkins is, “just a record.”

“At the end of the day, we’ve got Oregon and Oregon State,” Hopkins said. “That’s what we’re going to be concerned about. Just going out and trying to prepare, trying to execute, fight that human nature so we can go out and have a chance to win every game we play.

“That’s the way we look at it. Everybody talks about the process. Everybody has their process. We just hope our process is better than their process.”

Hopkins has been most encouraged by his bench play during the start of the Pac-12 schedule. UW got a combined 53 points from its bench in victories over Stanford and Cal. Green was the leading scorer against Cal, finishing with 17 points.

But what’s even more encouraging to Hopkins is the defensive effort from the bench. As a whole, UW’s defense has been impressive during conference play. Pac-12 opponents are shooting just 26.4 percent from the 3-point line against the Huskies. They are allowing just 63.5 points against Pac-12 teams, which leads the conference.

“We’re going to get deeper and deeper with our team and become dangerous,” Hopkins said. “Where do I feel we are with our defense? I always feel like we could be always better. But the great sign is when you start having guys, especially the young guys, starting to really get it. They not only are in there but they’re making a difference and an impact.”

It helps, too, that UW has four players averaging double figures in conference play: David Crisp (15.6 ppg), Jaylen Nowell (15.6), Nahziah Carter (10.6) and Thybulle (10.2). Green is averaging 9.2 points per game, while Noah Dickerson is averaging 7.8 points and 5.6 rebounds.

So what will it take for UW to continue its success against some of the better teams in the conference, especially on the road? To Green, the answer is simple: “Just keep it rolling.”

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