SEATTLE — Taking an interest in Washington Huskies basketball is gradually becoming a thing.
Or at least it appears that way. UW opened the season with questions about how a revamped roster would adapt to new head coach Mike Hopkins. The result, so far, is off the charts.
Last year the Huskies won only nine games total and just two in Pac-12 conference play. UW (12-4, 2-1 Pac-12) isn’t a gimme game anymore. The Huskies have won at Kansas and if not for a second-half shooting slump at UCLA, they could be 3-0 in conference play.
CBS Sports and SB Nation have projected UW reaching the NCAA Tournament. Nice as it sounds, junior forward Matisse Thybulle isn’t thinking about that right now. What concerns him — and his coach — is registering wins and achieving consistency.
The rest, they feel, will take care of itself.
“I would probably say the biggest thing is we’re just proving to ourselves what we’re capable of,” Thybulle said. “We knew we were going to do more than what people expected of us. Now that we’re actually proving it, I think it’s just reassuring for us as a team to know what we’re doing works and to keep it going.”
Thybulle, when meeting with reporters, further reinforced such a belief by wearing a black hoodie that read “Humble over Hype” in white letters on the front.
One can argue UW’s strong start might be one of the bigger surprises in the Pac-12.
The Huskies were picked to finish 10th in the conference and are in a four-way tie for third place.
It’s possible Washington could climb higher in the early standings by the end of the weekend. UW hosts California (7-9, 1-2) at 8 p.m. Thursday and takes on Stanford (8-8, 2-1) two days later.
“You just control what you can control. Our message has been: One game at a time,” Hopkins said. “It’s all you can control. You get bit if you start looking ahead. You focus on getting better every day. I can guarantee you that we’re doing that.”
Hopkins and his staff have developed such a construct in two ways.
The first has been through game experience. UW has performed in close games, as it is 9-1 in contests decided by less than 10 points.
They’ve shown an ability to bounce back, going 3-1 in games after a loss.
If there was a concern going into Pac-12 play, it was how the Huskies would fare away from Alaska Airlines Arena.
UW was 1-2 in neutral-site games. Altogether, the Huskies are 3-3 away from Seattle and have won three of the last four road games.
The second way UW has built continuity has been through having tough practices, Hopkins said.
“Our competition in practices has been really good,” Hopkins said. “When guys are fighting, with each other, but when they are in there, it’s competitive. It’s bringing up the level of us getting better every day. I think that’s where it is.”
Hopkins said the team will split into two groups at practice. They either go against each other in drills or simulated situations.
The offensive group is expected to make the best pass to find the strongest shot on the floor. Those on defense must stop those passes and force the other team into taking a bad shot.
“Respect the game. It doesn’t matter whatever their record is or what they do, teams can play,” Hopkins said. “Now that we’re 12-4, they’re going to give it their best shot.
“Now they’re coming after you.”