Washington will head on its latest road trip undefeated in the Pac-12 and riding an 11-game winning streak. The Huskies’ NET ranking is up to No. 28, and they are solidly in every NCAA Tournament mock bracket.
What UW doesn’t have is a number next to its name. When the latest AP Top 25 was released on Monday, the Huskies still didn’t make the cut. They were the first team out.
But that doesn’t bother them much.
“We don’t really use it as motivation,” head coach Mike Hopkins said Tuesday. “The motivation for our guys is, ‘How do we get better?’ Like I said (after the win over UCLA), I’m happy we won and we’re learning how to win but we’ve got to learn how to be champions.
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“It goes back to finishing games. It goes back to limiting our turnovers. It goes back to how can we rebound better? I know our guys are thirsty for the winning part. But it just doesn’t happen. Ranking, no ranking, the only thing we can do is focus on the next game against Arizona.”
Last week, UW swept its games against USC and UCLA to move to 9-0 in the Pac-12. The Huskies are only the ninth team in the conference’s current 18-game format to reach that mark.
Still, Hopkins said after the victory over UCLA that UW didn’t play great in its last two wins. That’s something he’s hoping to change in Thursday’s game against Arizona and Saturday’s match-up against Arizona State.
Hopkins said poise was an issue against the Bruins. The Huskies looked rattled early while facing UCLA’s full court press, turning the ball over 11 times in the first half. And when UW gets rattled, it speeds up.
The key, senior guard Matisse Thybulle said following the win, was just slowing down, making more deliberate decisions. When the Huskies made a run at the end of the first half, it allowed them to set the pace. That made all the difference.
“We were just playing too fast,” Thybulle said then. “We were sped up. When we were able to get in that run, we kind of took over the pace of the game. When we got the pace, we’re under control. We make the right reads and make the right decisions.”
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Hopkins agreed with Thybulle’s assessment.
“Pace is important,” Hopkins said. “Sometimes when you watch film of the game, they say sometimes you’ve got to get a second wind. … We weren’t seeing the whole court. It looked sometimes like we were in mud.
“We just had to calm down and really get back to getting that second wind, having pace more to what we’re accustomed to. The way we move the ball, the way we run the court. Once we did that and once we started attacking the 1-2-2 (press), we just kept getting better.”
The press also gave the Huskies issues against Oregon. Arizona will provide a different kind of challenge, Hopkins said. While the Huskies have recently faced zone defenses and full-court pressure, the Wildcats are known for their man-to-man defense.
But what won’t change is the importance of setting the tone.
“They’ve got a great home court, so it’s going to be loud,” Hopkins said. “That poise is going to be critical in that game. They are going to pressure. They’ve always been a really good defensive team.”