The Huskies put their nine-game winning streak and a perfect 10-0 mark at Alaska Airlines Arena on the line at 8 when they face USC (12-8, 5-2). Can they learn from the 1952-53 team that started 14-0?
After all these years, Roland Halle knows what a championship basketball team looks like.
And the 86-year-old former Washington Husky thinks this current UW squad has what it takes to lift the program back to prominence.
“I was there last Saturday for the 1,000th win at Hec Ed and boy, that team is fun to watch,” Halle said. “I’m so thrilled for them, especially those four seniors. They’re a great bunch of kids and they finally get rewarded for their commitment. And Mike (Hopkins) is a fantastic coach.
“It’s obvious at least from that I’ve seen that he’s gotten them to enjoy playing for each other. And that’s really the trick. Once you figure that out, anything is possible.”
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Halle should know.
66 years ago, he was a reserve guard on the only Washington Huskies team that advanced to the NCAA tournament Final Four and finished the 1952-53 season at 28-3.
“We were a solid team both offensively and defensively with the five starters who carried the load,” Halle said. “They had a good season the year before when the five guys came back — we had the nucleus to be a really strong team.”
“And that proved out. They played so well together. Different personalities. But it all came together. It’s the best team I’ve ever seen.”
This season Washington (16-4, 7-0 Pac-12) is off to its best conference start since the 1952-53 team began 14-0.
The Huskies put their nine-game winning streak and a perfect 10-0 mark at Alaska Airlines Arena on the line at 8 p.m. Wednesday (FS1) when they face USC (12-8, 5-2).
“There’s no secret sauce,” All-Pac-12 forward Noah Dickerson said when asked about UW’s winning streak. “Defense that’s what it is. And we’re sharing the ball really well. When you shoot open jump shots, it’s a lot easier than shooting contested jump shots.”
Winning streaks – especially for teams unaccustomed to success – can be tricky to navigate.
“We got to stay focused,” Hopkins said. “We got to stay together. Our defense has to be consistently good. We’re passing the ball better.
“It’s really just about us. It really is. I always say when you win, you’re fighting human nature, the media, articles and all these different things. Can you keep it focused? And that’s what we try to get into their head every day.”
During the 1952-53 season, Halle said the Huskies never talked about their 21-game winning streak.
“(Coach) Tippy (Dye) never brought the matter up as far as the streak was concerned,” Halle said. “The guys took it a game at a time. And never really thought a lot about it.
“I remember the night. I couldn’t believe we lost. We were at Idaho. Nothing went right. We had an off shooting night. It happens. Again, we had a veteran team so we just moved on to the next game.”
Led by Dye, the Huskies started five senior that included guards Charlie Koon and Joe Cipriano, forwards Mike McCutchen, Doug McClary and All-American center Bob Houbregs.
Washington started 24-1 before a 64-61 loss at Idaho. The Huskies won their next three games to build momentum toward the NCAA tournament where they beat Seattle University 92-70 and Santa Clara 74-62 to advance to the Final Four.
Due to foul trouble, Houbregs was largely ineffective and the UW was upset 79-53 by Kansas.
The next day, Washington trounced Louisiana State 88-69 in a consolation game.
Halle, who frequently attends UW games, cautions the current Huskies to not become bored with success.
“At times they have looked like they weren’t mentally prepared,” he said. “Take for instance, the first 10 minutes of that Cal game. That had to be the worst 10 minutes of college basketball I’ve ever seen in my life. They were atrocious.
“There are times when they get careless and don’t play the way they can play as a team. They get a little selfish. I would tell them to keep the team spirit and team goals and work together and to give the best shot to the best guy.”
The 1952-53 Huskies was a polished team in which everyone knew their roles.
Cipriano and Koon handled the ball and made a few outside shots. McCutchen and McClary played great defense and could also score if needed.
But the Huskies revolved around Houbregs, who had an unstoppable hook shot and averaged 25.6 points that’s still a UW record.
“Those five guys played together so well,” Halle said. “We enjoyed playing together so much that we never lost the fun of the game,” he said. “We played because we enjoyed each other and we enjoyed the game. … It’s really hard to coach today because many of them are playing for their own future. They are looking at big contracts.
“It was so different than when we played. Just a bunch of guys loving the game of basketball and really loving each other as friends and teammates. We didn’t think about wins and losses. We really loved what we were doing and then whatever happens, happens.”
Hopkins puts little thought into Washington’s streak.
“We’ve had some great learning experiences, but we still got some areas that we can improve and get better,” he said. “That’s what we focus on.”
“We give them the scout. Tell them how to execute and then it’s up to them. That’s where we’ve been really proud of the guys because they’ve been able to go out and execute the game plan.”
Season, Start, Record (finish), Note
1952-53, 7-0, 15-1 (1st), Final Four
2018-19, 7-0, —, —
1956-57, 6-1, 13-3 (3rd), —
1975-76, 6-1, 10-4 (4th), First round NCAA
1981-82, 6-1, 11-7 (4th), First round NIT
1983-84, 6-1, 15-3 (1st), NCAA Sweet 16
1985-86, 6-1, 13-5 (2nd), First round NCAA
2004-05, 6-1, 14-4 (2nd), NCAA Sweet 16
2008-09, 6-1, 14-4 (1st), Second round NCAA
2010-11, 6-1, 11-7 (3rd), Second round NCAA
Since the Pac-12 expanded in 2011-12, only five teams have started 7-0 in the conference.
Season, Team, Start, Record (finish)
2016-17, Arizona, 10-0, 16-2 (1)
2016-17, Oregon, 8-0, 16-2 (1)
2013-14, Arizona, 8-0, 15-3 (1)
2012-13, Oregon, 7-0,12-6 (2)
2018-19, UW, 7-0, —