At least they got the Cougs.
Whether the Huskies men’s basketball team finishes above .500 this season is still an unknown. Whether they’ll have any chance to play a game after the Pac-12 tournament is still in question.
Whether coach Mike Hopkins can make this team nationally competitive is still a topic of debate. But Saturday, against their cross-state rivals, the Huskies provided their fans with a moment they can cherish till season’s end.
Not quite sure if you can call this a signature win for Washington (14-13, 9-8 Pac-12), but it was its most impressive of the season. UW’s 78-70 defeat of Washington State was its first quadrant 1 victory of the year.
Perhaps more significantly — at least in the coaches’ and players’ minds — it gave the 7,269 fans at Hec Ed a reward for their larynx-bruising support. Before Saturday, a payoff like that had been absent for the Husky die-hards this season.
“You get an opportunity to play at home with a great crowd, it’s pretty special. They weren’t going to let us lose tonight,” Hopkins said after the game. “We wanted to keep the crowd in the game and ignite them.”
Up until Saturday, there hadn’t really been a game in which the Huskies could send their home fans off pumped with adrenaline. Yes, there was an overtime win against Utah and a three-point victory vs. Stanford, which was near the top of the conference at the time — but neither of those programs get the UW crowd’s blood boiling like the Cougs.
A raucous celebration — maybe even a court rush — would have occurred had the Huskies knocked off Arizona at home, but they instead watched a 14-point lead morph into a 28-point defeat. The Huskies needed this one — for both pride and momentum’s sake.
Although the outlook appeared dubious through the first 20 minutes.
Washington State (15-3, 8-9) went into halftime leading 34-28. Twenty of those 34 came courtesy of guard Michael Flowers, who hit five of his first seven three-point attempts.
The Huskies didn’t completely stifle Flowers in the second half, as he finished with 30 points. But they did unleash one of their most productive offensive halves of the season.
Keep in mind, this was the first time Washington has had the core of its team completely healthy in about three weeks. Forward Emmitt Matthews (15 points, eight rebounds) was back after suffering a concussion. Guard Daejon Davis (nine points, seven rebounds, five assists) was back after suffering a shoulder injury. Both were crucial in Saturday’s win, which came four days after Washington State beat Washington 78-70 in Pullman. But the man of the hour — as he has been in several hours this year — was Terrell Brown Jr.
After being held to just four first-half points on 1-of-9 shooting, Brown answered with 21 points in the second-half. He was a key cog in the Huskies going on an 18-6 run to put them in control. Brown came into the game averaging a Pac-12-best 21.4 points per game, and had posted at least 25 points in nine different contests.
His 25-point performance Saturday was his most significant of the season.
“We believe he’s the best player in the league. We knew he wasn’t going to go 1 for 9 again,” Hopkins said of Brown. “He delivers, that’s what he does.”
The Huskies may have been playing with a full roster, but a couple of players — Matthews and PJ Fuller — were playing a little lighter, as each had cut their hair before the game. Matthews’ trim was particularly noteworthy, as his ‘do has its own Twitter account. And though Emmitt’s mom was bummed about the hair reduction, he said it represented a transition for him as a man. His one-handed dunk in transition with 28 seconds left essentially represented the end of the game, as Washington took a five-point lead.
Tough to say what the Huskies will do from here. Their remaining three regular-season games are at home and come against UCLA, Oregon and Oregon State. The Bruins are ranked 12th in the country and beat UW by 26 last time they played. The Ducks smashed Washington by 28 in Eugene last month after taking a 48-13 halftime lead. The Beavers are 3-24 overall. In other words, an additional quality win might be hard to come by at Hec Ed.
An enthusiastic Hopkins is embracing the opportunity, calling it “awesome.” Maybe an upset is on the way.
In the meantime, these up-and-down Huskies knocked off their rivals in the home building. No matter what else transpires this season, at least they’ll have that.