SEATTLE — As Mike Hopkins said a few days ago, there are no secrets at this point in the season.
Washington is no longer the Pac-12’s dark-horse story. The Huskies (20-11, 10-8 Pac-12) have everyone’s attention. Except that of the bracketologists. UW, over the course of February, went from being a legitimate NCAA Tournament entry to a bubble team, to not even being in the picture. That, of course, could change depending on how the Huskies fare in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Piecing together a long run could give UW the push it needs to re-enter the NCAA Tournament conversation. Or it could lead to a first-class ticket marked for the NIT. Either way, the path to the postseason starts Wednesday against Oregon State (15-15, 7-11) at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Huskies junior forward Noah Dickerson said the team knows what it needs to do to be successful.
“Focus. When we’re focused and locked in as a team, we’re really hard to beat,” Dickerson said. “Especially if we stick to the game plan. It’s just being focused the whole time through practices and all of that. Focus to even go down there and get treatment on your body.”
Dickerson and the Huskies can point to examples of when they’ve followed through on the game plan. Such as when they pulled off upsets over ranked opponents Arizona, Arizona State and Kansas.
They can also remember when things haven’t gone well. Like when they lost to in-state rival Gonzaga by 27 points. Or their most recent game, which was a loss to another rival in Oregon.
UW fell into a 16-point hole against the Ducks yet were within four with three minutes to go. The Huskies struggled to get into the offensive sets needed to overtake the Ducks and instead, were left to rue another tough loss. Four of the Huskies’ eight Pac-12 losses were decided by less than 10 points.
And that’s an additional reason why Round 3 against the Beavers is vital. OSU took Game 1 with a 97-94 win in double overtime. UW rallied in Game 2 for a 77-75 win last Thursday.
“Down there, we learned a lot of good lessons. Here, we learned a lot of good lessons. They’re a good team,” Hopkins said of the Beavers. “They’ve got three coach’s sons that are exceptionally skilled ant talented. They have a good head coach, a good system. It’s going to go back to can we take away their 3-point shooting.”
OSU shot 47.4 percent from the 3-point line in the first meeting but was held to 38.9 percent from beyond in the rematch at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Hopkins also talked about creating disruption in the paint which has been an issue at times.
Beavers forward Tres Tinkle is averaging 25.5 points in two games against the Huskies. At 6 feet, 8 inches, he’s a prime example of how the Huskies have struggled to defend players with length and size this season. In all but four games this season, a player 6-7 or taller has led their respective team in scoring against UW in conference play.
“At this point, we both know what we do,” Dickerson said. “We understand the offenses that we run. At the end of the day, it’s not about the plays we run because we know them all. Both teams know both our plays. It’s about whoever plays harder.”
Washington entered last weekend as a team still hanging on to its collective NCAA Tournament fate. Losing to Oregon proved to be a bit devastating.
UW, per ESPN’s Bracketology, was already in the “First Four Out” category. As of Monday evening, the Huskies were altogether left out of ESPN’s projections.
Climbing back into the NCAA Tournament picture means UW would have to go on a long run in the Pac-12 Tournament. Should UW beat OSU, it would set up a quarterfinal game against USC. The Trojans, according to ESPN, would be one of the “Last Four In” along with UCLA.
If UW reaches the semifinal, it would face either Utah, Oregon or Washington State.
“The mindset has to be excitement, fun, ice cream, desert,” Hopkins said of playing in a conference tournament. “There’s the three parts of the season. You’ve got your preseason and then you’ve got your regular season/conference season and tournament. In my ear it’s the (NCAA March Madness theme) and that’s the turn on for basketball players.”