Most baseball fans are familiar with the term 4-A player.
It refers to a man who dominates the minor leagues — Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A etc. — but fades to obscurity once he gets called up to the majors.
Well, right now, the Huskies men’s basketball team appears to be the 4-A player of the Pac-12. They can handle the bottom-feeders just fine, but get swallowed whole vs. the big-league programs.
Saturday was the latest exhibit in the class difference between Washington and the conference’s elite. Arizona beat UW 92-68 in a game that, believe it or not, didn’t feel as close as the score indicated. Despite a near flawless first 10 minutes of basketball, Washington faded spectacularly against the No. 4 team in the country. It wasn’t easy to watch — nor was it particularly shocking.
The Huskies (13-10, 8-5 in the Pac-12) have posted a surprisingly respectable record in the conference after being picked to finish 11th in the league. But all eight of their wins have come against teams in the bottom half of the standings.
Not only has Washington gone 0-3 against schools in the top half (two games vs. Arizona and one vs. Oregon) — it has lost by an average of 22.7 points. That includes being down 48-13 vs. the Ducks at halftime last month and being outscored by 42 points during a 23-minute stretch Saturday.
Yes, about nine minutes into the game, the Huskies led 25-11. Senior guard Terrell Brown Jr. hit his first seven shots to get the 8,503 people in Hec Ed jacked. But after a media timeout, it seemed Arizona figured out how to defend Brown and infiltrate the Huskies’ zone defense — then rattled off a soul-sucking scoring run.
Said Huskies coach Mike Hopkins as soon as he sat down for his postgame news conference: “Bummer.”
Hopkins seemed confident that his team had a chance to win had it played more crisply. He believes Arizona (22-2, 12-1) is the best team in the country, and asserted that the Huskies’ early 14-point lead showed their potential.
But to the naked eye, the Wildcats looked as though they would win 100 out of 100 matchups vs. this UW squad. The Huskies may have the heart, but they don’t seem like they have the horses.
There is nobody on this team besides Brown that seems capable of creating his own shot against top-tier defenses. In fact, while Brown — who finished with 29 points on 9 of 20 shooting — took a one-minute breather in the first half, Arizona went on a 7-0 run en route to establishing a nine-point halftime lead.
Washington was lost without the Pac-12’s leading scorer (Brown came into the game averaging 21.8 points per game). And once the Wildcats put the clamps on him (he missed 11 of his last 13 shots), there was simply no way for UW to recover.
The Wildcats were too big, as they scored 50 points in the paint and had nine second-half dunks. They were too efficient, as they shot 69 percent in the second half. They were too stingy on defense, as they held UW to 3 of 17 from three-point distance. It was a rout that seemed inevitable.
After the game, Hopkins was asked about the Huskies’ inability to challenge upper-echelon teams. “We’ll have some more (games against top teams) and then we can be the judge of that,” Hopkins said. “I believe in these guys … we still have a lot of opportunities. I believe we can. I know we can, and I know our team knows that we can, but it’s gotta be better than it was tonight.”
This week, the Huskies travel to Los Angeles and play 21st-ranked USC on Thursday and 12th-ranked UCLA on Saturday. Are those teams as gifted as Arizona? Probably not — but they are better than any of the teams UW has beaten in conference so far this season.
Washington may have exceeded the media’s expectations so far this season, but they’re a long way from NCAA tournament consideration. There simply hasn’t been a notable win that would impress the selection committee.
This trip to Southern California looks like it will be their last opportunity to nab such a victory before the Pac-12 tournament starts.
No doubt Washington has looked impressive for stretches this season. But stretches don’t count for anything.
In terms of full 40 minutes against a quality team? The Huskies just haven’t proven anything yet.
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