Before they venture into the Pac-12 portion of their schedule, the Washington Huskies must complete one more nonleague tuneup on Sunday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
And if the Huskies handle the visiting Stony Brook Seawolves as expected, they’ll finish their nonconference slate unbeaten for the first time since 2005-06 and start a season 12-0 for the first time since winning the first 14 games of the 1975-76 season (although they officially began that season 18-0, because Oregon State had to forfeit what would have been a 72-70 victory in UW’s 15th game).
UW coach Lorenzo Romar will note that an unblemished record at the start of conference play doesn’t mean everything. But it means more than nothing.
“I think it’s definitely a worthy goal. With our team, this will be our 12th game, so by no means does this make a season,” Romar said Saturday morning. “Like I said before, win or lose, this doesn’t make the season. But to be able to say that you were undefeated in nonconference, for one, beats the alternative, and two, it gives you a lot of momentum and confidence going into conference.”
And it’s not something the Huskies achieve all that often.
“If it wasn’t that big of a deal,” Romar said, “we’d do it every year. So it’s an accomplishment if we were to do that.”
They are expected to, though Stony Brook will likely compete for the America East championship this season after winning 23 games, finishing second in the conference and playing in the College Basketball Invitational last year. The Seawolves are led in scoring by junior guard Carson Puriefoy (15.2 points per game) and junior forward Jameel Warney (14.9), who also leads the nation in rebounds with 12.8 per game.
Warney’s presence should pose a challenge for the Huskies, who rank 10th in the Pac-12 in defensive rebound percentage, collecting only 66.9 percent of their opponents’ misses so far.
“(Friday) in practice, we did a couple drills that emphasize boxing out, and going and getting rebounds instead of just trying to tap them and everything like that,” said fourth-year junior guard Andrew Andrews. “… It’s going to be a challenge for us to step up and rebound, and not just go to the ball. We have to box out. They have three or four guys who crash consistently, so it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Said Romar: “It’s going to be a big test for us to see if we’ve learned anything in the last week, in terms of blocking out and getting rebounds.”
Washington players returned to practice on Friday after a three-day break for Christmas. Romar said he thought the Huskies suffered from “mental fatigue” during their sloppy, 66-57 victory over Tulane last Monday, and figured some time away from the court would help.
“Sometimes, it’s not just the physical demands. It’s the mental demands,” Romar said. “You’re drained mentally because you’re constantly studying for an exam when you’re practicing. You’re trying to devour and digest these scouting reports. It takes such a high level of concentration to make sure you’re in the right position on the floor, you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do. So to get away from it and just let your mind kind of get cleansed a little bit is always good.”
They hope it shows against Stony Brook, with more taxing matchups next week at California and Stanford on deck.