Even if No. 12 seed Washington had upset No. 5 Arizona on Wednesday, the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, which canceled the Pac-12 Tournament and the NCAA tournament, would have ultimately halted the Huskies’ season in Las Vegas.
But the bitter reality is the Huskies were never going to make it to the Big Dance after losing 77-70 to the Wildcats, a team they beat four days earlier in Arizona.
Washington finished 15-17, which is the first losing record for third-year coach Mike Hopkins.
Here are three impressions.
SO WHAT WENT WRONG?
We’ve spent the past three months analyzing UW’s troubles partly expecting this team to reclaim the chemistry that led to a 10-2 start and a No. 21 ranking in The Associated Press top-25 poll.
While it seems overly simplistic and wholly unfair to say the loss of sophomore point guard Quade Green is the sole reason for UW’s demise, there’s no doubting the trajectory of the season changed once he became academically ineligible.
Washington was 11-4 before Green’s suspension and 4-13 without him.
Despite playing in fewer than half of the games this season, Green leads UW with 79 assists and his 5.3 assists per game average would have tied for second in the Pac-12. (He didn’t play enough games to qualify.)
It’s easy to overstate Green’s importance in the aftermath of a disappointing season, but the Kentucky transfer gave the Huskies a relatively veteran playmaker and steady leadership offensively.
It took Washington roughly two months before the youthful combination of Jamal Bey, Elijah Hardy and Marcus Tsohonis played with any type of consistency that matched Green’s production.
In hindsight, maybe Hopkins should have worked harder to have the backups ready to play major minutes.
And maybe he should have put the offense in the hands of freshman forward Jaden McDaniels, a 6-foot-9 matchup nightmare who finished second among UW players with 65 assists.
That would have been a risky gamble considering McDaniels exhibited early turnover problems and questionable decision-making skills. He led the Pac-12 with 100 turnovers, 103 fouls, eight disqualifications and six technical fouls.
Bey and Hardy finished with more turnovers (38 and 34 respectively) than assists (36 and 33). Tsohonis, who was slated to redshirt, showed promise at the end and emerged as one of UW’s top perimeter threats.
Despite winning three of its final four regular-season games, the offense sputtered far too often for a team with an embarrassment of scoring options including Isaiah Stewart, Nahziah Carter and McDaniels.
MISCALCULATION IN DEFENSE
Hopkins is a defensive coach and give him credit for crafting another stout defense with four new starters.
Washington finished the regular season ranked sixth nationally while holding opponents to 38.1 percent shooting and fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (66.4).
The Huskies stymied Arizona last week during a 69-63 victory, in which the Wildcats shot 35 percent from the field.
Yet on Wednesday, Hopkins had the Huskies playing a version of their 2-3 zone defense in which the wings extended up and left them vulnerable on the baseline and in the corners.
Normally, UW’s 2-3 zone surrenders a midrange shot just below the free-throw line, and the Huskies did a good job of negating Stone Gettings, who converted 2 of 5 field goals for five points.
However, Arizona’s Josh Green feasted on a variety of open looks on the baseline and in the corner while canning 5 of 10 shots for a team-high 19 points.
Washington forced just 13 turnovers, including three in the second half that led to 10 points.
The Huskies need turnovers to ignite an offense that normally has problems producing points. In their previous meeting, UW generated 23 points from 18 Arizona turnovers.
And speaking of turnovers, the Huskies committed 19, which proved costly during a dismal performance in which they had just seven assists on 23 field goals and converted 3 of 23 three-point attempts.
‘I HOPE IT HURTS’
We’ll dive more into what’s next for the Huskies over the coming days and weeks.
Even though Stewart hasn’t been ready to declare for the NBA draft, Hopkins has repeatedly said he expects the star freshman forward will turn pro after the season.
Following Stewart’s career-high 29 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the field and 12 rebounds on Wednesday, Hopkins expressed gratitude for their relationship.
“I’ve known this kid since he’s been young,” Hopkins said. “And he’s going to have a great career. You never want to lose your guys, same with (Sam) Timmins, Quin Barnard and Jason Crandall. It’s hard in coaching, in college they’re always flipping. But I’ve never been around a kid like this, ever. And just honored to have that 12 months that I’ve had. And we’ll be buying tickets to go watch him play. Well, he better give me tickets.”
Stewart, the nation’s No. 3 overall recruit in 2019, is a projected first-round pick in the NBA draft along with McDaniels, another five-star recruiting prospect.
Timmins graduates and it remains to be seen if UW loses anyone else. Carter could test the NBA draft waters or someone could depart via transfer.
Excluding Stewart and McDaniels, Washington has 10 scholarship players on the roster, which is three shy of the NCAA limit.
Currently, the Huskies have not added any newcomers, which would be the first year since 2012 that they didn’t bring in a scholarship player.
Washington could add a graduate transfer for immediate help, which has been difficult in the past due to the school’s rigid academic requirements. And the Huskies have had an uneven history with junior-college transfers.
Seemingly, Hopkins is hoping an experienced lineup accounts for greater success next season.
“I hope it hurts,” Hopkins told the Pac-12 Networks when asked about what the Huskies’ disappointing season. “It hurts all of us.
“Now we have a lot of guys that know what they have to do for next year so this doesn’t happen again. I know there’s a lot of fired up guys that want to get to work and get better. A great learning experience for us.”