Washington lost its fifth straight game Saturday night, an 87-83 defeat against Arizona State in front of 9,066 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
It’s the ninth loss in the past 11 games for the Huskies, who are 12-11 overall and last in the Pac-12 at 2-8 with eight regular-season games remaining.
Here are three impressions:
UW is trying to stay motivated
Tennessee’s legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt famously said: “Left foot, right foot, breathe, repeat.”
The Huskies may want to heed her advice in the wake of a five-week decline that’s ruined their 10-2 start.
Admittedly, several Huskies have never gone through anything like this.
Freshman guard RaeQuan Battle said he hasn’t lost this many games since his sophomore year in high school.
Washington, the defending Pac-12 champion, was expected to compete for another league title and make a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, the Huskies have their longest losing streak since dropping 13 straight the season before coach Mike Hopkins’ arrival in 2017.
“It’s weird because you know the expectations that you have for yourself coming into the season,” junior forward Hameir Wright said. “You see that things aren’t panning out that way and you start worrying about all of the external factors. That’s one of the things I did is try to cut every external factor out that was in my life that was hindering my goals as a team and us moving forward.
“So if you’re playing for the guy next to you, if you’re playing to be competitive to win every game and you’re playing just for the love of the game, then win, lose or draw you’re going to get better every time. And if we keep getting better, there’s no way we’ll be able to miss our goals.”
Hopkins is pushing every button imaginable.
He’s tinkered with the lineup, reshuffled the rotation and twice benched standout freshman forward Jaden McDaniels. He’s been a fiery, fierce and vocal advocate on the sidelines while barking at officials and drawing a technical foul. He’s also preached a positive and optimistic message while projecting a sense of calm and poise despite the mounting defeats.
And yet, nothing has worked.
“You look at their faces,” Hopkins said. “The game is meant to have fun. These kids put so many expectations on themselves. Coaches bend them, push them and stress them. At the end of the day, the game is meant to have fun. But there’s only one way to get out of it. Collective energy. Teammates picking each other up. Getting to practice not for a long period of time, but really being focused. And then there’s action.
“This is a personal decision. We talked to them about Kobe (Bryant) tonight. The Mamba Mentality. It’s a mentality. It’s not something they talk about, it’s action when he goes and does it.”
Washington has an eight-day break before its game Sunday at Washington State, and Hopkins said the Huskies need the layoff to re-energize.
Where’s the D?
Recently the Huskies’ defense has been torched, which is far more distressing and perplexing than their last-minute losses in low-scoring games.
Washington is allowing 79.3 points in the past three games, which is a losing proposition for the Huskies.
During Hopkins’ three-year tenure, UW is 10-17 when allowing 75 points, including 1-6 this season.
When teams score 80 points, the Huskies are 4-10 in the past three seasons.
It’s understandable to suffer a dropoff in offensive production after the loss of point guard Quade Green, who is ineligible.
But you would think the Huskies would then double down on their 2-3 zone and attempt to win on the defensive end, which is what UW attempted in the first five games without Green.
However, Washington averaged just 60 points and lost by a combined 13 points to Stanford, California, Oregon and Utah when Hopkins tweaked the lineup and essentially replaced McDaniels with Battle. McDaniels fills up a stat sheet and provides rim protection whereas Battle is a perimeter threat who can score a lot in just a little bit of time.
The switch has helped the offense, which is averaging 72.3 points in the past three games, but the defense has fallen off dramatically.
The Huskies surrendered 51 points in the first half against Colorado and allowed Arizona State to score 48 in the second half.
The Sun Devils’ 87 points were the sixth-most by a UW opponent in the past three seasons. And the Huskies are 0-6 in those games.
Wright steps up
Three weeks ago, Hopkins called out juniors Nahziah Carter and Wright and put the onus on them to lead the Huskies out of their slump.
It’s taken a little while, but Wright has stepped up and put together the best four-game stretch of his UW career.
On Saturday, the 6-foot-9 forward finished with 14 points and five steals – both personal bests – as well as four rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 36½ minutes.
He sank 4 of 6 shots from the field, including 3 of 4 three-pointers and was 3 of 5 at the free-throw line.
Through his actions and words, Wright is assuming command of a team in desperate need of leadership.
“I’m just trying to keep my spirits up because it’s a new feeling for me losing like this,” he said. “I see it as an opportunity for us to grow and learn. We’re not naïve. We know what our goals are and we can’t let the disappointment overwhelm us.
“That’s what happens when a lot of teams start losing. You hit skids not because of the physical stuff, but because of the mental stuff. I feel if I can be one of the people to bring the mental up each game, then it will help us in the long run to accomplish our goals.”