Mike Hopkins felt the Huskies inching closer to a breakthrough before finally putting it all together Wednesday during their 84-80 victory over Colorado that snapped an eight-game losing streak.
Days before beating the Buffaloes, the Washington men’s basketball team installed a few new wrinkles in its 2-3 zone defense, which nearly resulted in an upset win at UCLA.
After UW’s 81-76 loss at Pauley Pavilion, Hopkins provided a little bit of foreshadowing of the Huskies’ future.
“We’re growing,” he said. “Once we start getting all of those pieces moving in the same direction at the same time, that’s when you’ll start seeing the W’s. I felt like there was a lot of progress.”
For just the third time this season – and the second time in as many games – Washington had four players score in double figures against Colorado, which signifies tremendous strides for the Pac-12’s lowest-scoring offense that was overly reliant on point guard Quade Green early in the season.
The Huskies needed greater diversity from an offense that ranks last in the league in points (66.2), assists (9.9), field-goal percentage (41%), three-point field-goal percentage (30.9%) and free-throw attempts per game (14.7).
Simply put, Washington (2-11, 1-7 Pac-12) needed more guys to start making shots.
“From what I can tell, it’s not the schemes that are fundamentally wrong or need to be fixed,” Pac-12 Networks basketball analyst P.J. Carlesimo said. “Guys are getting open. They’re getting good looks. But they haven’t been making their shots.
“Sometimes as coaches, you can only control so much. You can make sure your team is rested. You can give them a good game plan and all that. And you’ve got to make sure the right lineups are on the floor. But at some point, players are either going to make shots or they’re not.”
Early in the season, Green established himself as UW’s most reliable scorer, who would draw constant double teams and attract the opposing team’s best defender.
When Green’s scoring dipped, the Huskies didn’t compensate, which resulted in many of their lopsided losses.
Due to the recent offensive ascension of Erik Stevenson, Jamal Bey and Marcus Tsohonis, Washington was able to beat Colorado despite Green tallying just 11 points – his fourth-fewest total this season – on 3-of-9 shooting.
“At the beginning, (we) put so much on him and he’s really grown as a leader,” Hopkins said. “He’s trying to get other guys involved and trusting his teammates. That trust has created a better and stronger bond with teammates. (Wednesday) he only took nine shots, the least amount of shots he’s taken all year.
“Sometimes we need him to score, but he was more poised. He was more of a leader. … He’s persevered. He’s listened to the coaching staff.”
Green, who averages 15.1 points per game, can take a backseat offensively on nights when Stevenson and Tsohonis score 27 points like they did against California and Colorado, respectively.
“I’ve been a scorer my whole life, but obviously it hasn’t shown or it didn’t show the first third of the season,” said Stevenson, who averaged 4.3 points in the first eight games. “But I’m always looking to score. I’m always looking to help the team offensively and defensively as well.
“From a scoring standpoint, my role on every team that I’ve been on is to put the ball in the basket and help that team in that aspect.”
In the past four games, the 6-foot-3 junior guard and Wichita State transfer leads UW with a 17.8 scoring average.
Bey, a 6-6 junior guard, is averaging 12.8 points in the past five games, which is nearly an eight-point improvement from his 5.1 scoring average in the first seven games.
And Tsohonis has been a wild card who has yo-yoed in and out of the lineup. The 6-3 sophomore point guard hasn’t played in three games and logged 15 or fewer minutes in seven other contests.
In the three games Tsohonis played extended minutes, he tallied 24, nine and 27 points.
“We know what Marcus can do,” Hopkins said. “I think the biggest thing is we added a couple of new players that we were trying to figure out the chemistry and if it could work. … We didn’t start off on the best foot as a team and we were trying a lot of things.
“I feel like we’ve settled into a rotation and how we’ve got to win. I think the more we’ve done that, the more comfortable these guys will be. The more chemistry will be built. Roles have been defined. We’re executing better on both ends of the court. We’re tougher on both ends and we’re more together. We’re not where we need to be in those areas. It’s always a work in progress for sure, but getting better.”
Heading into Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against Utah (6-6, 3-5), Washington is averaging 76.2 points in its past five games, which includes four of its five highest-scoring performances this season.
Stevenson attributes the improved offense – UW averaged just 61 points in its first seven games – to better chemistry.
“We definitely improved in that aspect I feel,” he said. “It hasn’t shown up where we want it to show up, but it’s definitely shown up from a team camaraderie standpoint. From an offensive standpoint, we’re getting better shots. It’s much easier to put it in the hole. It makes it easier to score. I think we’ve improved in that aspect for sure.”
Hopkins and the Huskies still need to fortify a porous defense that’s allowed at least 80 points in the past seven games, but UW players say Wednesday’s win gave them renewed confidence to turn around a season marred by the worst start since 1953.
“We always knew we had it in us to win these games, but I feel like that’s just going to get us over the hump,” Tsohonis said. “Just keep building off this. Not getting our heads too big. We’re just going to take it game by game and try to get these wins.”