Washington wanted to play a difficult non-conference schedule. It’s a challenge, said men’s basketball head coach Mike Hopkins, but it’s also the best way to see where the Huskies’ stand.
Even the exhibition game slate was tough as UW’s went on the road to beat No. 7 Nevada. Then the No. 25 Huskies came home for their second exhibition, struggling to a victory over Division II Seattle Pacific.
The sample size was enough for Hopkins to know this:
“We’ve had this conversation in every game, we can beat anybody. We’ve proven that when we don’t get organized, when we don’t execute, when we take quick shots, what happens? You can lose to anybody.”
His words will be tested often before UW even opens Pac-12 conference play. In Tuesday’s season opener, the Huskies defeated Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers played in the NIT semifinals last season and are the preseason Conference USA favorites.
Next up, the Huskies will play No. 11 Auburn on Friday in their first road game of the regular season.
“It’ll be a great opportunity for us to play on a national stage and see what we got,” Hopkins said. “Let’s go see it.”
The Huskies got a glimpse of their potential against Nevada. Hopkins is often asked about that game: What went right against the Wolf Pack?
Turns out it’s a simple formula, the same formula that allowed UW to pull away from Western Kentucky after going into halftime trailing by nine points.
“We shared it,” Hopkins said. “We attacked. We kicked out.”
UW got away from that strategy in the first half against the Hilltoppers. They shot 18 3-pointers, making just two. And when the Huskies stopped making shots, they started rushing.
“It was pretty frustrating,” Hopkins said. “After halftime, it was just show some poise, get us in the right spot. We’re getting good shots. Let’s look to attack more and see if we can get to the foul line more than them.”
Point guard David Crisp echoed Hopkins’ assessment. UW has an athletic team, with players like Noah Dickerson capable of finishing in the post. Crisp knew the Huskies needed to take advantage of that.
“We just said if you’ve got an open shot, don’t be passing. Take the open shot,” Crisp said. “But let’s be sure to put pressure on the rim. Don’t bail guys out by pulling up and shooting 3s and jump shots. Try to get (to the basket).”
That style of play is key to UW’s success. The Huskies got away from it in the first half and didn’t score for the final 5:37, allowing the Hilltoppers to close on a 17-0 run.
After halftime, they returned to it. Crisp was key to making that happen, and he finished with seven assists to go along with 13 points. Jaylen Nowell also refocused on attacking after the break. He had 17 points and three assists.
Hopkins previously highlighted assists as one of the areas UW needs to improve this season. And when it comes to sharing the ball, Crisp and Nowell have both taken steps forward.
“He gets that look,” Hopkins said of Nowell. “Where he’s gotten better is he makes guys around him better. Having the three assists tonight, getting in the lane. He’s got an attack mentality and that’s what we want. His ability to get in the lane and not only make a shot but kick it out is huge for us.”
Hopkins and his players all know what works offensively. Against Auburn, they’ll be searching for consistency.
“The only way you know is if you go and challenge yourself,” Hopkins said. “That’s what we want for this program. That’s how we’re challenging ourselves and that’s the standard that we want. Go play the best.”