Fast starts were rare for Washington during the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Huskies often struggled in the opening minutes and then spent the rest of the first half playing catch up.
But when Pac-12 play opened, something changed. UW started the conference season 10-0 and led all but three of those games after the first five minutes. In the seven games they led, the Huskies outscored their opponents 83-40.
Lately, though, the Huskies’ fast starts have dropped off. In the loss to Arizona State, UW did have a 11-9 advantage after the first five minutes but never took control, which allowed the Sun Devils to pull away with a 12-2 run.
In the 72-70 win over Washington State on Saturday, UW was losing 10-9 after the first five minutes and 45-36 at the half. But while the Huskies’ rally fell short against Arizona State, they were able to mount a comeback against the Cougars.
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Head coach Mike Hopkins described UW’s starts as “a little bit inconsistent.”
“We went through a stretch where we were shot out of a canon,” Hopkins said. “For the most part, during the preseason, we were late and our starts were average, below average. I’m really happy, for most of the Pac-12, where we really started defensively at a high level, a lot of intensity. Defense sometimes was our best offense.”
In the last two games, UW has been forced to play from behind. And while Hopkins would prefer the Huskies to build big leads early, he likes the resiliency his team has shown in battling back.
Even in the loss to Arizona State, the Huskies were able to trim a deficit that was once 18 points to seven in the second half. They trailed Washington State by as many as 14 points.
“I think the experience of being in those situations is going to help us find ways to win when it’s not pretty,” Hopkins said. “That’s important. Coming out, hopefully you’re going to have those good starts. But if you don’t, you know what we have to do to be able to recover and show poise and win the game.”
Forward Noah Dickerson said the Huskies are confident that their defense will keep them in any game, even when they fall behind.
“Coach has been trying to deem in us that culture around defense,” Dickerson said, “how defense is our thing. … I’m never really worried.”
This late in the season, Dickerson said, players start getting tired. Energy is the key to getting off to a fast start, and that’s something the Huskies lacked again Arizona State and Washington State. In trying to find some against Cougars, Hopkins even inserted a lineup of only bench players in the first half.
One of those players, sophomore guard Nahziah Carter, has consistently provided a boost off the bench for UW. He was the leading scorer in the Huskies’ win over Utah in January, finishing with 18 points in 27 minutes.
UW will be looking for a similar performance from him in Wednesday nights rematch against the Utes. And if the Huskies come out slow, he said it’s even more important for him to give them a lift.
“That’s the thing about being the sixth man, seventh man coming into the game,” Carter said. “You have to bring energy because if you just come in with the same energy that was on the floor, especially if you’re down in the game, it just doesn’t help the team. You want to come in and be a spark.”