Washington was 4-5 in true road games this season, but if they want to make a deep run in the NIT, they’ll have to figure how to win away from home.
One way or another, the season will end on the road for the Washington men’s basketball team.
The No. 5 seed Huskies played their final home game Wednesday and advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament with a first-round 77-74 victory over No. 4 Boise State at Alaska Airlines Arena that was technically a “road” win for lower-seeded UW.
From here on out, Washington, which was 16-4 at home, will play the remainder of its NIT games on the road.
NIT second round, UW @ Saint Mary’s, 8 p.m., ESPNU
Next up is a trip Monday to Moraga, Calif., to play No. 1 Saint Mary’s (29-5), which was 17-1 at home this season, including a 78-65 loss to Gonzaga on Feb. 10.
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The Gaels have a 171-21 (.891) home record over the last 11 seasons and they’re 56-4 in their last 60 home games against nonconference opponents.
“It will be rowdy and a great college basketball environment,” coach Mike Hopkins said about 3,500-seat McKeon Pavilion. “I’ve seen it on TV. I saw one of the championship games. I’ve probably seen two or three of their games on television, so it looks like a great place to play.”
The Huskies have struggled away from home with a 4-5 record in true road games.
Saint Mary’s finished the regular season ranked No. 25 in The Associated Press poll and was 40th in RPI heading into Selection Sunday.
The tournament selection committee cited SMU’s weak schedule — the 172nd toughest in the nation, per KenPom.com — as the reason why it was not among the 36 teams that received at-large berths.
It has been widely reported that the Gaels declined to play Creighton, Rhode Island, Nevada and Middle Tennessee State — all NCAA tournament teams — in nonconference matchups, which is a dangerous gamble for a West Coast Conference team.
Saint Mary’s never left the state for its 13 nonconference games and posted nonconference wins against California and Harvard. The Gaels also lost 84-79 to Washington State on Nov. 24 in the Wooden Legacy.
“Wazzu got them in foul trouble so that pretty much was that,” UW junior guard Dominic Green said. “It seemed like that hurt them because they didn’t have no rim protection. So that might be something that we can do to get an advantage.”
The Huskies went 2-0 against the Cougars, but UW proved no match against Gonzaga during a 97-70 defeat on Dec. 10.
“Teams evolve, teams get better,” Hopkins said. “It also goes back to matchups. How are they going to attack our zone? What are our adjustments we can make?
“And on the flip side, how can we score against them? But there were some things. I thought Washington State did a great job attacking them off the bounce and forced them to defend one-on-one. Washington State’s got multiple guys who can take you off the bounce.”
The Gaels are 6-2 at home in the NIT and their last nonconference loss at McKeon Pavilion was a 65-51 defeat against UT Arlington on Dec. 8, 2016.
Washington will need to contend with 6-foot-11 senior center Jock Landale, the WCC Most Valuable Player who led the conference in scoring (21.5 points per game), rebounding (10.2), field-goal percentage (64.3) and double-doubles (18).
“He’s just unbelievable in the post,” Hopkins said. “When you’ve got a guy with that size, it’s like our Noah (Dickerson) with great footwork. He’s so skilled, not only if you double him he just picks you apart. And when they have those great shooters around there, they can all pass, dribble and shoot — he’s just a problem.”
The Huskies faced Landale as a sophomore and junior during closed-door preseason scrimmages against the Gaels in 2015 and ‘16.
“We remember them,” Dickerson said.
Green added: “We’re just going to go in and try to play hard and play our game. We honestly just want to get the W.”
With just two seniors on the roster (a reserve and a walk-on) and at least seven of the top scorers expected to return, UW’s NIT run should pay dividends next season.
But the Huskies are focused on immediate returns. They understand that they’re two wins from a trip to New York.
With a victory Monday, Washington would play at No. 2 Utah or No. 3 LSU on Wednesday.
“I don’t want to be at home sitting on the couch,” Green said. “I’d rather be doing something that I love to do — play basketball. So it’s a great feeling.”