At this point in the season, there isn’t much room for losses — especially at home, where the Huskies are 15-4.
Players and coaches will tell you otherwise, but that wasn’t just another conference game. Washington’s 72-64 loss to Oregon on Saturday wasn’t just another defeat they can learn from and move forward.
In their final game of the regular season, the Huskies’ path to the NCAA tournament got about 25 degrees steeper. Barring a trip to the Pac-12 tournament finals, their dancing shoes will likely stay in the closet.
The Huskies (20-11, 10-8 in conference) entered Saturday with the 44th-best RPI in the country. Bracketology guru Joe Lunardi, meanwhile, had in them in his “first four out” category.
At this point in the season, there isn’t much room for losses — especially at home, where the Huskies are 15-4. Now, their surprising season will require a borderline shocking conference-tournament run.
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A spectacular showing in Las Vegas didn’t seem like it would be necessary for Washington a month ago. The Dawgs had just beaten Arizona on a Dominic Green buzzer-beater, giving them their third win over a top-25 team in the season.
At the time, it seemed only a collapse would prevent them from reaching their first NCAA tourney since 2011. And then, well, they kinda collapsed.
Three straight losses followed that Arizona win, including a double-overtime defeat against Oregon State, which finished 10th in the conference. Stanford beat the Huskies 12 days later, just as Oregon did on Saturday.
All of a sudden the third-place Huskies had tumbled to seventh in the conference, costing them a first-round bye in the conference tournament. A mention of that last part caused UW coach Mike Hopkins to grimace in his postgame news conference.
Like his players, Hopkins knows his team could have won Saturday. A second-half surge that cut a 15-point deficit to four proved that.
A couple more minutes, a made free throw or two, and the Huskies might have ridden that near sold-out crowd all the way into the lead.
“If we could just gotten that one possession to get the crowd,” Hopkins said. “That crowd was like a Jiffy Pop just ready to blow.”
To be fair, expecting a crowd even half that size would have been ambitious at the beginning of the season. Washington was coming off a 2-16 conference record and had added little to its roster.
The Huskies can lose by 30 to Oregon State in the conference-tournament opener and still call this a great season. But the fact that they’ve come sooooo close would make an NCAA tournament exclusion especially painful.
You wonder if any of those thoughts were swirling in point guard David Crisp’s head. No player is chipper after a loss, but Crisp seemed particularly despondent after the game Saturday.
The defeat certainly wasn’t on him, as he scored a game-high 19 points while drilling two clutch three-pointers in the second half. But it was clear none of that mattered to him.
There was a lot on the line today. Did this feel like just another loss? Crisp was asked.
“Never too high, never too low,” Crisp said. “This was another loss, and we’ll bounce back from it.”
A win over the Beavers on Wednesday would pit the Huskies against second-seeded USC, whom they beat earlier in the season. A win over the Trojans would be a nice RPI bump for Washington, but probably not enough to send them to the tournament.
As Hopkins noted, UW has wins over three teams (Kansas, Arizona, Arizona State) that were ranked No. 2 in the country at one point in the season. But as he also noted, much of the country doesn’t hold the Pac-12 in the same esteem as other major conferences.