Between the 76-73 loss to Cal, the one-point victory at Stanford and the overtime win over Oregon State, the Huskies men’s basketball team have been keeping Washington coach Mike Hopkins on edge lately.
But that wasn’t always the case in Pac-12 play.
During their 10-0 start to the conference season, the Huskies won games by an average of 12.5 points. But over their last seven games, their scoring margin has been 2.7 points. The stretch included two losses, one to Arizona State and another to the Golden Bears. In UW’s five wins, the margin of victory was 6.8 points.
The Huskies won seven of their first 10 conference games by at least 10 points. Since then, only one victory— a 62-45 win over Utah — was decided by double figures.
Some of the discrepancy, Hopkins said, can be attributed to what he called the “dog days of the season.”
“Coaches are tired,” he said. “Players are tired. … You see the wear and tear of these guys. It’s a long season. We just challenged them. You got to be tough. It’s going to come down to, are you tough enough?”
Over the last seven games, UW also played six teams it’s already faced this season. That could help explain why the Huskies allowed 60.8 points per game during their undefeated start but have given up 65.4 during the back end of the conference schedule.
Still, despite the tightening scores, the Huskies have only dropped two games in Pac-12 play. And they pulled out victories in two of their last three, all of which were decided by five points or less.
“We got to have poise,” Hopkins said of Wednesday’s 81-76 win over Oregon State. “They’re not going away. Our guys showed that. As scary as it got in certain moments, they stayed together.
“They had to get rebounds and get stops. … Our guys battled and made the plays they had to make, enough of them, to come out with a victory.”
Hopkins said UW started learning how to win close games last season. Now, the Huskies have confidence that they’re going to pull out the victories. And they’ve shown it in the last two games by making plays when they needed them the most.
Against Stanford, Matisse Thybulle’s steal followed by Jaylen Nowell’s jumper gave UW some separation down the stretch. And during the win over Oregon State, the Huskies’ defense forced an unbalanced 3-pointer at the end of regulation and then held off the Beavers in overtime.
“They’re a tough team,” said UW’s Noah Dickerson, who scored seven of the Huskies’ 15 points in overtime against the Beavers and finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds on Wednesday.
“They’re always there. They always hang around. They always have a chance to win. Last couple of games they lost by two or three points. They’re always tough. They’re tough to play.”
Pulling through those moments and close scrapes, Hopkins said, will help his team as it wraps up the regular season against Oregon on Saturday and then heads into the Pac-12 tournament and, presumably, the NCAA Tournament. Experts currently project the Huskies as anywhere from a No. 7 to a No. 10 seed.
“We talk a lot about poise with our guys,” Hopkins said. “When you’re a championship caliber team and program, teams are going to give you their best shot and go on runs.”