The precocious Washington Huskies face a big game Thursday at Arizona, but they’ve already surprised many by bouncing back from a nonconference loss to start 3-0 in Pac-12 games.
We interrupt this never-ending string of Seahawks stories to bring you a team whose 2016 has been every bit as sweet.
Buried beneath talk of Marshawn Lynch’s health and Blair Walsh’s hook is a group of hoopers who have been perfect in the Pac-12.
Since Jan. 1, the Washington men’s basketball team has played 135 of the most ridiculous, most entertaining minutes in the NCAA.
Will it last much longer? Eh, tough to say.
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But it hasn’t been tough to watch.
The Huskies are riding a three-game winning streak that includes a double-overtime win over UCLA, a 22-point comeback against USC, and an overtime victory over Washington State. Take the end-of-regulation scores from all three of those contests, and it’s UW 245, everybody else 243.
Close games are no novelty in college basketball, but what the Huskies have been doing is rare. A team this young just isn’t supposed to be this composed.
It would be one thing if Washington’s roster was teeming with future lottery picks a la Kentucky. When you trot out freshmen who are flat-out better than everyone else, then tenacity and resilience aren’t as crucial.
But the Huskies aren’t quite that. At least not yet, they aren’t.
We knew they had potential — but did we know they had this poise?
“I do think it’s rare,” said Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar when asked about a team this green pulling out tight conference wins. “I think we have a lot of character on this team.”
But Romar also made sure to point out that they have senior Andrew Andrews on the team, too. The point guard is averaging 29.0 points over the past three games, and is posting 21.6 per game this season.
He also hit a late three-pointer in a 35-point performance against UCLA, made the go-ahead putback with 22 seconds left against USC, and had six of the Huskies’ 12 overtime points vs. WSU. If you’re looking for the Pac-12 Player of the Year through the first three games of conference, you don’t have to look outside of Seattle.
But what’s been particularly encouraging is how Andrews’ first-year teammates hit a stride when the games really started to matter — especially when you look back at the last game they lost.
Washington was supposed to crush UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 28, but those pesky Gauchos embarrassed the Huskies in front of their home fans, 83-78.
But Tuesday, Romar hypothesized that if his team hadn’t lost that game, it wouldn’t have come back to beat the Bruins four days later. Added freshman Dejounte Murray: “That game made us refocus … it made us realize we couldn’t just show up. We had to play Husky basketball.”
What “Husky basketball” will truly come to mean remains a mystery, but through three games, it seems to be the byproduct of athleticism, defense and self-assurance. It doesn’t hurt that Murray has averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists since Pac-12 play began.
A true one-two punch appears to have emerged on Montlake, and now we wait to see if the Huskies can keep landing the combos.
Romar was reluctant to read more than a millimeter into what UW (11-4, 3-0 Pac-12) has accomplished so far this season. Any other attitude would be reckless given how the Huskies lost 15 of their final 20 games last year after starting 11-0.
Arizona awaits in Tucson on Thursday, then a slew of opponents in one of the nation’s most competitive conferences. Momentum could shift in a hurry.
In the meantime, the Huskies should be recognized for a Pac-12 start few people outside of their locker room thought they were capable of. Their wins have been wild, yes, but they’ve also been defined by will.
It may seem unrealistic to expect this ride to continue, but then again, it seemed unrealistic that they would have gotten to this point at all.