The Husky men’s basketball team will play a Pac-12 game in early December, marking its earliest conference game.
Washington’s league opener at Utah, set for 3 p.m. Thursday, originated last year when the conference added two games to expand to a 20-game schedule in an effort to reduce lopsided nonconference matchups and bolster competitiveness throughout the league.
At the time, conference leaders couldn’t have anticipated navigating a college basketball season during a coronavirus pandemic that’s created several unprecedented challenges.
Case in point, Washington (0-2) had its four-game tournament canceled last week and scheduled a pair of last-minute games in Las Vegas before taking a six-hour bus ride from Sin City to Utah.
However, the Huskies’ misadventures pale in comparison to the Utes, who had to suspend team activities Nov. 13 due to a coronavirus outbreak.
Last week, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said he tested positive for COVID-19 along with nine players who share two houses. The Utes canceled games against Dixie State and New Orleans while more than half of the team quarantined.
Tuesday, Krystkowiak said Utah’s practices resumed last Friday and he expects everyone to be available for the game Thursday.
Utah reported no positive COVID-19 tests Tuesday and is scheduled for tests Wednesday and Thursday before being allowed to play.
“Once we get on the basketball court, I’m sure a lot of the players and the rest of the coaches are a lot like me where you’re at peace and you forget about what’s going on in the crazy world,” Krystkowiak told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Some of those curveballs and surprises might hit you when practice is over, but I think we’re just focusing and enjoying this great game that we know can get taken away from us at any point.”
Washington is reeling following crushing defeats against No. 2 Baylor and UC Riverside, but it’s unclear if the Huskies are catching the Utes at a good time considering they haven’t played a game.
Utah, which was picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, returns seven of its top eight scorers from a team that finished 16-15 last season and in a three-way tie for eighth in the conference at 7-11.
All-Pac-12 forward Timmy Allen (17.3 points a game last season) and sophomore point guard Rylan Jones (9.6) are expected to overcome the departure of junior forward Both Gach, who transferred to Minnesota.
Last season, Washington lost 67-66 on Jan. 23 at Utah. The Huskies swept a pair of games during the 2018-19 season, which snapped a six-game losing streak against the Utes.
After the 57-42 defeat Tuesday against UC Riverside, UW coach Mike Hopkins hinted at tweaking the starting lineup and expressed frustration with an offense that ranks 265th out of 266 Division I teams in scoring (47.0 points a game).
Washington is tied for 259th in three-point field goal percentage (18.2) while ranking 256th in field goal percentage (33.0). The Huskies also are 264th nationally with a minus-23 rebounding margin.
“It’s going to be a learning curve,” Hopkins said. “We’ll get better. Got to share it. I thought our defense was decent. Got to rebound better. Offensively, got to be quicker, faster and obviously shoot better.”