At varying times during this stunningly disappointing season, a string of players emerged as potential bright spots for the Washington men’s basketball team only to regress and fall out of the spotlight.
After slow starts, RaeQuan Battle showed potential followed by Nate Pryor and Marcus Tsohonis.
Each came off the bench and displayed promise to fill a desperately needed role of pairing with UW leading scorer Quade Green.
The latest candidate to captivate an understandably skeptical Husky fan base is Erik Stevenson, the Wichita State transfer, who poured in 27 points — a season-high for a UW player and two shy of his personal best — during last Saturday’s 84-78 loss at California.
It was an extraordinary and unexpected performance considering Stevenson tallied just two points in the previous three games, which included briefly losing his starting spot and twice going scoreless while playing fewer than eight minutes.
But it was also a glimpse of the explosive offensive attributes of the 6-foot-3 junior guard who set several school and Class 3A state tournament records during his senior year at Timberline High in Lacey.
“He’s a good player,” Hopkins said. “Sometimes you let your mind get the best of you. He came out and we able to get him going a little bit early. I think that helped.
“It’s him — him and his mind. The ball moved. We had some really good moments of team basketball. It seems like the basketball gods reward you when you play the right way. And when you don’t, they will also take it away from you.”
Admittedly, transferring to Washington and learning the Huskies’ 2-3 zone defense has proven to be a difficult transition for Stevenson.
“It’s definitely a change from where I was coming from system wise,” said Stevenson, who averaged 11.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals as a sophomore at Wichita State. “A big thing for us — not just myself — but for us to get to the next step is to get better chemistry with one another. Trust one another a little more on both ends on the floor. That’ll open up a lot of things.
“When you trust your teammates and have good chemistry with the team you can make a play for others knowing that it’s going to end up with a positive result and vice versa. It hasn’t been an easy year with all the circumstances going on. I guess it’s taking us a little bit longer to get our chemistry down.”
In many ways, Hopkins revamped UW’s offense to showcase Stevenson’s perimeter prowess.
During the first nine games, it appeared as if Hopkins made a major miscalculation as Stevenson shot 17.4% (4 of 23) on three-pointers and 25% from the field while the Huskies ranked last in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting (24.6%).
But it all turned around last Saturday when Stevenson connected on 6 of 9 three-pointers while the Huskies converted 9 of 18 shots outside the arc.
“He works as hard as anyone here,” said junior guard Jamal Bey, who has also seemingly recovered from a slow start this season while scoring 15 and 18 points last week. “He comes in and does his same routine everyday. … His shots weren’t falling, and he finally got a few to fall. He did what he does and he started making shots.”
Stevenson contributed the reversal to “playing without thinking and just letting the game come to me.”
Washington (1-9, 0-5 Pac-12), which has a six-game losing streak, doesn’t necessarily need another 27-point outing from Stevenson for Thursday’s 6 p.m. game at USC (9-2, 3-1).
However, Hopkins is looking for consistency.
“Making the shots and those types of things are important, but even when you’re not, you’re playing confident and you’re playing the right way,” Hopkins said. “That’s really, really important. We got to be able to execute on both ends of the court for longer periods of time.
“To see the ball go in for Erik was a great thing. He does it in practice so to have that game was great. … If we can get 1-2 more guys just giving us something on the offensive end, it’s going to keep us becoming a better team.”
Hopkins attributes a lack of consistency on a UW team that ranks last in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage (39.4) for his multiple lineups and various changes in the rotations.
“You want to know that you can depend on somebody,” Hopkins said. “Like you know what you’re going to get. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to make shots or have 27 every game. You just know that they’re going to compete at a certain level and play the right way and execute both offensively and defensively. But that becomes the challenge.”
Saturday’s six-point defeat represents signs of growth from a UW team that’s been blown out by 14 points or more in six games.
With the trio of Green, Stevenson and Bey, the Huskies scored a season-high 78 points and believe they’ve finally got their slumbering offense on track.
“This season has definitely been tough” Stevenson said. “It hasn’t been what we all were wanting or hoping for. It’s just something we got to keep learning and keep getting better. Keep gelling and keep growing our chemistry.”
When asked how the Huskies can win a game, Stevenson talked about UW’s defense that ranks last in the Pac-12 while allowing 81.0 points per game to conference opponents.
“Got to get stops,” he said. “You’re not going to beat a team giving up 84 points (and) whatever Stanford had, 91. You’re not going to beat anybody like that. Got to get stops. We’re starting to find ourselves offensively a little bit. But defensively, you got to get stops.”