Is there something there?

Can Thursday’s flicker somehow morph into a flame for the Washington men’s basketball team? Can the Huskies take a hint of momentum and turn it into a full-sized helping?

Did that win over Utah, which led UW by 14 at one point, signify a turning point for this program? Or was it a victory over a squad struggling with its own spiral?

We’re more than a week into January and are still learning about these Huskies, who have played just two conference games. COVID-related issues postponed games vs. Washington State, UCLA and Arizona — and outright canceled a game vs. Gonzaga — that might have shed some light on what this team can do. As it stands, the Huskies are 6-6 overall, 1-1 in the Pac-12, and still (somewhat) shrouded in mystery. They lost to Arizona by 16 in Tucson on Tuesday, knocked off the Utes by six in Salt Lake City on Thursday and face a 10-3 Colorado team Sunday

So what do we really know? For starters, they haven’t been humiliated in conference play thus far. Washington came in as 24.5-point underdogs against eighth-ranked Arizona, and at one point, looked like they could pull off the upset. With less than nine minutes remaining, UW was within six points. The Wildcats ended up pulling away in their home arena but didn’t bloody the Huskies the way Vegas — and likely most people in the building — thought they would. 

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There are two ways to interpret this. The first is that the Huskies are improving — that they aren’t the pushovers many projected they would be before the season began, when the media picked them to finish 11th in the conference.

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The second is this: Three years ago, the Huskies ran away with the Pac-12 title, and now we’re commending them for losing by 16 points???

Unfortunately, that’s the condition of this basketball program right now. That’s what happens when you finish in 12th place two years ago and 11th place last year. That’s what happens when you’re coming off a 5-21 season and the recruiting trail is drier than the Mojave.

But … maybe Thursday gave fans something to be hopeful for?

Huskies guard Daejon Davis had one of his most efficient games of the season in that 74-68 win over Utah, when he went 7 of 12 from the field and 2 of 4 from deep to finish with 16 points, his second-highest total of the year. Cole Bajema, meanwhile, snapped out of his long-distance shooting slump by burying 5 of 8 three-pointers en route to 15 points. 

UW’s defense was on point as well, coming up with traps in its press to force key turnovers in the second half. As coach Mike Hopkins said after the game: “Our press and our man is our defibrillator. It gets us rolling. It’s helped us in games and it helped us tonight.”

The only problem with all this is that Utah is 1-4 in conference, was picked to finish 10th in the league, and got its sole Pac-12 win against Cal, which was picked to finish last in the league. 

So what do we know? 

Well, we know that Washington has the lowest field-goal percentage among Pac-12 teams, shooting just .397 on the year. We know the Huskies’ three-point percentage (.301) is 11th in the conference ahead of only Arizona State. We also know UW is 11th in the league in rebounding, and well, we’ll stop there for now. 

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Had COVID not been an issue, the conversation surrounding this Husky team might be completely different. Perhaps there would have been a 30-point loss to No. 4 Gonzaga, a 25-point loss to No. 5 UCLA and another double-digit defeat at the hands of Arizona. Maybe there would have been an embarrassing loss to Washington State as well. But those games were put off, so we’re left only to speculate. 

Three years ago, it looked as though the Washington men’s basketball team could pass as this town’s winter sports-season entertainment. It was an NCAA tournament team led by a two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year winner in Hopkins. 

Obviously, things are different now. Colorado should give this team’s fans a glimpse of what is to come. Folks will learn more in the coming month, as dates with Cal, Oregon and Oregon State await.

UW offered a glimmer of hope with its win over Utah. Unfortunately, recent history has taught supporters not to get too excited.