Imagine taking business trip to a familiar city. There’s a certain routine you follow when it comes to hotels and restaurants. Except on this particular trip, you have a new boss. All of a sudden, the familiar gets replaced with something new.
Welcome to Washington’s first Pac-12 trip under Mike Hopkins. The Huskies’ maiden conference voyage away from Seattle ended with a 1-1 mark against USC and UCLA and some new experiences.
Go a bit deeper and the trip was about Hopkins getting to know more about his team as a collective and certain players as individuals. And for the players, they learned more about their first-year coach and what it will take to win more games away from Alaska Airlines Arena.
“I know how hard it is to win on the road and what’s realistic,” Hopkins said. “Part of this thing is if we’re ever going to do that, you gotta believe you can do it. Trying to get there is the team’s mindset. That’s (the coaching staff’s) mindset too.”
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The Huskies (11-4, 1-1) have made strides under Hopkins. A year ago, they went 9-22 and only won two conference games. UW has already surpassed last season’s win total. A win Saturday in Pullman against Washington State ties the Pac-12 mark from the 2016-17 campaign.
Consistently winning on the road is UW’s next hurdle. Hopkins has guided the team to a 9-1 mark at Hec Ed but the Huskies are 2-3 away from Seattle.
UW dropped consecutive games in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden. Weeks later, it beat then-No. 2 Kansas in Kansas City, Mo., before they earned a split in Los Angeles last weekend.
“I think we’re confident no matter where we play,” junior forward Noah Dickerson said. “Our coaches give us that confidence. Defense wins games. Defense wins championships and our defense can translate anywhere we play. The biggest takeaway is that defense wins games.”
Start with the Huskies’ 88-81 win over the Trojans to open the trip.
Dickerson was one of five players who scored 10 or more points. Washington shot a blistering 67.3 percent from the field and 8 of 16 for 50 percent from 3. USC shot a healthy 48.4 percent from the floor yet was 3 of 20 for 15 percent from beyond.
Move ahead to the 74-53 loss to UCLA. To Dickerson’s point, the Huskies’ defense held up. The Bruins only shot 43.1 percent and were 35.7 percent on their 3-pointers. UW was strong enough to hold UCLA under its season averages in field goal and 3-point percentage.
The Huskies’ shooting, however, abandoned them. They finished 27.9 percent from the floor and a dismal 7.4 percent from 3.
“We can play with anybody. Our defense is hard to score against,” Dickerson said. “Some nights, like (the UCLA game), the shots don’t fall.”
Playing actual games was only one part of what made the first Pac-12 trip under Hopkins important.
This gave Hopkins a chance to get a feel for the conference and his players an opportunity to experience something old in a new manner.
Hopkins said he also wanted to use this trip as a “bonding experience.” He had the group sit down and watch the Huskies football team play Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl on their off day.
“Sometimes, you have games that can feel like a vacation,” Hopkins said. “You kind of get away. Sun is out. Beach is there. I just think any time you can spend a lot of time with your team it is a great thing.”
Hopkins, a Southern California native, wanted the team to meet his family. He even got a chance to meet some of his players’ families. Dickerson, after the UCLA game, got a chance to see family and even take a group photo with his twin brother and their friends.
Dickerson said it was different to do a trip with Hopkins compared to former coach Lorenzo Romar.
He said the Huskies are staying at different hotels and are also on a different routine under Hopkins.
“I think we’re all adapting pretty well,” Dickerson said.
There was also some adjusting for Hopkins, too.
A former Syracuse assistant, he’s learning how things work in the Pac-12 when it comes to scheduling.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference, league games are played three-to-four days apart. Much of UW’s conference schedule only gives the team one rest day between games.
“This is all new for me too, now,” Hopkins said with a smile. “The road, the one game in between on the road. But it’s all pretty cool.”
Limited rest between games means the Huskies will need help from its bench and that’s what they received from junior forward Dominic Green.
Green’s stock rose on the trip. He went from a “Did Not Play” against Montana to averaging 22 minutes per game between USC and UCLA.
He scored 16 points and shot 6 of 7 from the field against the Trojans. Green, like the rest of team, struggled against the Bruins by going 1 of 6 for three points.
“I just tried to stay ready, stay focused,” Green said. “I didn’t let none of the stress of not playing get to me. I was just trying to stay focused, wait my turn and help the team.”
UW knows what it has in its starting five of David Crisp, Dickerson, Jaylen Nowell, Matisse Thybulle and Sam Timmins.
The bench is starting to develop. Freshmen forwards Nazier Carter and Hameir Wright provide length and can allow Hopkins to play a smaller rotation.
Should Green continue his progress, he could give the Huskies another option at shooting guard or small forward.
Plus, the Huskies will get more help from freshman point guard Michael Carter. Carter fractured his left hand in November but tweeted Tuesday he was back.
“USC is a Top 10 preseason team and we got that one,” Hopkins said. “If you ever wanna get into the NCAA Tournament, winning on the road is important, they say. To get one of these, I’m proud of these guys.
“Would I love to get two? No question. But 1-1? I’ll take it.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark