Mike Anderson knows the answer to this question.
What, exactly, changed in the past year to allow the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team to start this season 8-0, to ascend to No. 16 in both major polls, and to appear for the first time in three years as if they could contend for a berth in the NCAA tournament?
“I think everybody’s bought in with the team,” Anderson said Tuesday, one day ahead of UW’s 8 p.m. game against Grambling State at Hec Edmundson Pavilion (Pac-12 Network).
Ah, the nebulous concept of a “buy in.” It’s an easy explanation, even if difficult to define, for why a team can play so much better just one season after being stuck in mediocrity.
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But the Huskies insist that’s one of the primary reasons for their return to relevance so far this season (though the addition of 7-foot center Robert Upshaw and his shot-swatting abilities probably doesn’t hurt, either).
“I think the defense is better. Robert Upshaw makes a difference. I think our players are older, more experienced,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “But that buy in is what leads to that. I think the good defense is a byproduct of the buy in. and this year, I just think everyone is on the same page. And it certainly helps when you win. If you lose, that changes things. But when you’re winning, there’s a tendency to buy in. It’s a little easier.”
Romar spoke after last season’s 17-15 finish about a lack of accountability, saying that the coaching staff might have allowed too much “slippage” while working through key injuries and re-tooling their defensive philosophy as a result.
This season is different. And that might have started with a team meeting during UW’s training camp. Fourth-year junior guard Andrew Andrews mentioned it Tuesday, and Romar remembered it, too.
“We were talking about holding each other accountable, and we got real specific as to who was maybe slacking and why,” Romar said, recalling a theme of “OK, we need to make sure we get better at that and hold each other accountable and to it.”
Andrews and Romar both characterized the meeting as positive, with players and coaches discussing last season and the upcoming season in a fashion that “got our feelings out,” Andrews said.
“I thought we got a lot done in that meeting,” Romar said. “I thought if we can stick to this, it’s going to help us down the road. I thought it helped establish a foundation, so to speak – a team foundation.”
It may have helped most defensively, where the Huskies are so far allowing opponents to shoot just 34 percent from the field. They gave up field goals at a 50.8 percent clip in 2013-14.
That defense isn’t likely to be tested against Grambling State, a Southwestern Athletic Conference team with six losses by an average of 37.7 points. The Tigers lost at Oregon State on Monday night, 71-43.
But Grambling’s record likely won’t be a focal point of UW’s gameplan.
“The way to handle success is don’t think you’re successful,” Andrews said. “… We know each game we have something to prove, so as long as we’re taking each game as they come and not looking ahead into the future like, ‘Oh, we’re this, we’re that,’ then we’ll be all right.”