After 37 days, the Huskies walked away from a basketball game with a win, an 87-52 victory over California on Saturday.
Washington snapped its nine-game losing streak and improved to 13-15 and 3-12 in the Pac-12.
Here are three impressions.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?
After the win, the 8,873 fans at Alaska Airlines Arena didn’t storm the court and the Huskies didn’t cut down any nets.
Other than a few smiles and high-fives, the postgame celebration was rather subdued as if UW players and coaches didn’t want to make a fuss over a win against a slumping Cal team that had lost four of its previous five games.
As coach Mike Hopkins said: “We expect to win every game we play.”
But it’s impossible to know in the immediate aftermath if the troubles and inconsistencies that plagued the Huskies the past 5½ weeks have suddenly been resolved by one stellar performance.
At the very least, Saturday’s 35-point win – UW’s most lopsided victory this season – was a reminder of how dominant the Huskies can be when they put together a complete game.
And yet with three games remaining in the regular season, there’s the very real prospect that there’s just not enough runway for Washington to take off.
The Huskies are last in the Pac-12 standings and their only pathway to the NCAA tournament is winning four games in Las Vegas and capturing league’s tournament title.
It’s not an impossible scenario considering two teams have done it, including Colorado in 2012 and Oregon last year.
And it would be in keeping with the wackiness of the Pac-12 this season if a No. 12 seed were to run the table and win the league tournament title.
There’s not a dominant team in the Pac-12 and one could make a strong argument that Washington is “better” than over half of the conference.
I’d take UW’s roster over UCLA, USC, Utah, Stanford, California, Oregon State and Washington State. Furthermore, Washington has lost by a combined 10 points to Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State.
But basketball isn’t a pageant or a competition that’s decided by judges.
And the Huskies haven’t done enough to inspire any confidence that their disappointing season isn’t going to end in three weeks in Vegas.
THE ZONE ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE
All you critics of Washington’s 2-3 zone (and I include myself in this group at times) need to zip it and reconcile yourselves to the fact that Hopkins isn’t going to stray away from his favorite defensive weapon.
The UW coach relied on a man-to-man defense early in the season and at times the Huskies look like they’re playing man-to-man defense when deployed in a full-court press.
But Hopkins loves the zone for reasons that were made apparent Saturday when California converted just 2 of 13 three-pointers and went over 16 minutes without a field goal.
It needs to be noted that Cal is last in the Pac-12 in scoring (62.4 points per game) and 11th in field-goal percentage (42.1).
If Washington hadn’t committed 22 fouls, the Golden Bears wouldn’t have scored 40 points. However, Cal attempted 36 foul shots and made 28 – both season highs for a UW opponent.
The Huskies did a marvelous job of executing the scouting report and shutting down Cal’s leading scorer Matt Bradley, who finished with 14 points on 3-of-11 shooting and four turnovers.
And they finally got a strong rebounding performance while controlling the glass 34-28.
But Washington has got to cut down on the fouls. The Huskies are fourth in the Pac-12 in fouls (18.1) in conference play.
UW’S BIG THREE LEADS THE WAY
It’s been a struggle getting Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels and Nahziah Carter to thrive simultaneously this season.
Saturday’s game marked just the third time in Pac-12 play in which the Huskies’ top three scorers finished with at least 10 points.
Even though Stewart’s scoring has dipped recently, he’s been remarkably consistent for a freshman who draws so much defensive attention from opposing teams.
However, Carter and McDaniels have been the X-factors.
Against Cal, Carter took over early and scored 9 of the first 11 points for UW. And he did it with dribble drives that resulted in layups or short jumpers.
Carter, who had 11 points in the first half, finished with a game-high 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting, including 2 for 2 on three-pointers.
Meanwhile, McDaniels scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half and had all five of his assists before the break.
Stewart is Washington’s first offensive option, but the Huskies built a 43-26 halftime lead with Carter and McDaniels combining for 21 points while Stewart had 7 of his 15.
It’s relatively easy for perimeter players to complement a post presence like Stewart, but it can sometimes be difficult for wings to co-exist within a rather basic offensive structure like Washington’s.
And those complications are exasperated without a veteran point guard like Quade Green, who is ineligible.
But if Carter and McDaniels can share the ball like they did Saturday, then they’d comprise arguably the most lethal perimeter tandem in the Pac-12.