Two days after Washington’s loss to Cal, head coach Mike Hopkins brought his team together to celebrate winning the Pac-12 regular season championship.
Because they lost to the Golden Bears, the Huskies didn’t get to enjoy clinching the title on Thursday night. Even though Arizona State and Oregon State also lost that night, which handed UW the championship, it still left the arena disappointed and more than a little baffled.
And it wasn’t just a loss — it was the Huskies’ worst loss of the season by far. The Golden Bears hadn’t won a Pac-12 game before topping UW, and they are still the lowest-ranked major conference team in the NET rankings.
And the Huskies heard all about it.
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Hopkins knew his players saw the tweets and articles and updated NCAA Tournament predictions. Their seed projection dropped. Some experts said they were on the bubble or dangerously close. The fan reaction didn’t help much, either.
“After you had that loss, it was the sky is falling, you’re out of the tournament, you’ll never play again … whatever it may be,” Hopkins said after UW bounced back with a 62-61 victory over Stanford on Sunday. “The reality of it is, it’s not the end of the world. There’s a lot of basketball to be played. How are we going to learn from this?”
First, the coaching staff wanted to recalibrate the Huskies’ mindset. Hopkins made the call not to show the players any clips from the loss to Cal. The coaches were up until 5 a.m. after the game watching, but the players only saw film of Stanford.
“My biggest challenge was I didn’t want to get into the mistakes that we made other than that we had to get back to who we were, what our identity is and that’s on the defensive end,” Hopkins said of his decision. “We didn’t focus on the negative. We had to move forward.”
On Saturday — after the Huskies had time to feel the loss and reset — they finally celebrated their title. They gathered in a room in their hotel, hung a banner, put on the championship T-shirts and hats. It was everything they didn’t get to do Thursday night.
“Just to let them know that the sky’s not falling, you accomplished a lot,” Hopkins said, then turned and pointed to an imaginary banner. “With that thing, that banner right there, you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. You just learned that lesson.
“You’ve got to be able to compete. Nobody should be able to out-tough you or out-compete you. You can control that. You can’t control making shots. You can control how hard you play, how smart you play, how tough you play.”
Before they returned to the court, Hopkins said, it was important for the Huskies to regain perspective.
“Losing’s not a good feeling,” he said. “We’ve been really good all year. Being in this program now for a year and a half, the way they felt after that loss was showing that we’re growing. You could feel the pain.
“The biggest thing whenever you feel pain is go home, cry in your pillow. … We gave them eight hours. Go feel sorry for yourself, cry and then you got to do what? You got to get back in the saddle. Great teams handle adversity.”
Now, UW will wrap up the regular season with home games against Oregon and Oregon State before turning its attention to the Pac-12 tournament. The Huskies will be the No. 1 seed.
“Sometimes you just go to do what? Survive and advance, forget it, have a short-term memory, crumble the paper, throw it away and it never happened,” Hopkins said. “We just had to move forward emotionally. I was just really proud of how tough they were (against Stanford).”