The young Washington men’s basketball team has heated up its home crowd with athleticism and exciting finishes, but things could cool quickly if the Huskies don’t take care of business this week.
First, the good news: It’s a party on Montlake.
It’s an eardrum-crushing, adrenaline-rushing fiesta that no frat on campus can compete with.
The Washington Huskies men’s basketball team is generating a buzz Alaska Airlines Arena hasn’t felt since the days of Isaiah Thomas and C.J. Wilcox. Senior Andrew Andrews called Sunday’s crowd the best he has ever seen at UW, which is why he was particularly miffed that the Huskies couldn’t pull out the win, losing to Utah in overtime.
And remember — the media picked Washington to finish 11th in the Pac-12 before the season began, so maybe it’s better to describe all this as a surprise party.
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Which leads us to the bad news: This could all disappear like that.
Not to go all doomsday on the Dawgs, but this upcoming trip to Southern California is critical. If a three-game skid drops UW from first place to the middle of the Pac, the fans could undergo a major zest-reduction.
That isn’t a swipe at the student section so much as it is a nod to human nature. The only fuel sports enthusiasm runs on is winning.
So do the Huskies have it in them? Can they return to campus just as sizzlin’ a ticket?
That would be a fair question for almost any program but it is especially pertinent with Washington. Just last season, the team started 11-0 before dropping 15 of its final 20 games.
As you read this, the Huskies are 13-6 overall and 5-2 in the Pac-12, which has them in a tie for first place with Oregon. But they also have five freshmen who are among the top seven on the roster in minutes played.
In other words, there isn’t much of a history indicating that this group can sustain its winning ways during the meat of a Pac-12 schedule. Then again, there isn’t much of a history indicating that they can’t, either.
Part of the fun in watching these Huskies is tracking the ratio between cheer-inducing highlights and groan-inducing blunders. An alley-oop from half-court two seconds after a steal is often followed by a foul at half-court with two seconds on the shot clock.
Hey, you can’t expect much else when there is so much youth on the court at once, and, to be fair, the progress this team has made since November is extraordinary. But as entertaining as athleticism is through the first 38 minutes of a game, discipline tends to win it in the final two.
Coming up Thursday for UW is a veteran UCLA squad that starts three upperclassmen and just one freshman. Oh, and the Bruins are ticked. Washington beat them in overtime on New Year’s Day.
On Saturday comes a veteran USC squad that also starts three upperclassmen and just one freshman. Oh, and the Trojans are ticked. Washington came back from 22 ponts down in the second half to beat them three Sundays ago in Seattle.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar acknowledged that both teams likely feel they should have gotten the win in their previous meetings with the Huskies. He recognized the upcoming challenge and the impact it could have on Washington’s Pac-12 standing, too.
However, he also expressed full confidence that his team could not only steal a victory in SoCal, but come back to school 7-2 in conference. And if that happens, expect the next couple of home games to prompt noise complaints from the neighbors.
From Andrew Andrews’ league-leading scoring ability, to Malik Dime’s league-leading shot-blocking ability, to Dejounte Murray’s first-round NBA pick potential, there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on the Huskies this week. They can ooh you with a Marquese Chriss post move, ahh you with a David Crisp pull-up, or calm your nerves with a Noah Dickerson put-back.
Anyone who has watched these guys knows there’s a fun factor that most Pac-12 teams simply don’t have. They also know there’s a frustration factor that most teams anywhere don’t have.
The next two games for Washington aren’t quite make-or-break, but they are crucial in keeping the fans’ flame burning. The Huskies can’t do anything about having to travel south — but they can keep the season from going south.