When Mike Hopkins took over as Washington’s head coach, the players had a decision to make. They could stay and try to help Hopkins rebuild the program. Or they could transfer.
All four of the Huskies’ current seniors — David Crisp, Matisse Thybulle, Dominic Green and Noah Dickerson — decided to trust in Hopkins. Soon after Crisp decided to stick it out, he sent out a tweet. The message was simple: He had unfinished business.
Now, the Huskies are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. A No. 9 seed in the Midwest Region, UW will face eighth-seeded Utah State in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday at 6:50 p.m. (ET). The game will be broadcast on TNT and the winner will play No. 1 seed North Carolina or No. 16 seed Iona on Sunday.
Crisp thought about that tweet after UW heard its name called on Sunday. Getting the program back to this point, he said, was exactly the unfinished business he was talking about.
“When you’ve been at a program that you’ve put your heart, sweat, blood, tears all into it, you want to put the program back to where it’s been, back to going to the tournament consistently,” Crisp said.
“To get it back to where it was in my last year here, given the circumstances and everything that was going on in the last four years, it means the world. It’s definitely that legacy I want to leave behind.”
In 2016-17, UW finished 9-22 and 2-16 in conference play. UW’s seniors often refer to their careers as a roller coaster, and they point to their sophomore campaign as the lowest point.
The progress started to show last year when the Huskies just missed on an NCAA Tournament bid but finished 21-13 and played in the NIT.
“It means the world to us,” Crisp said. “Three years ago, nobody would have ever thought we’d be in the position we are right now. All the hard work we put in and all the sacrifices we made to get where we are right now, it feels amazing.”
While both Crisp and Hopkins said they were confident the Huskies would be in the field, their nerves increased the longer the Selection Show went on. Two regions were revealed before UW flashed on the screen.
“At the end of the day, I’ve been doing this a long time at (Syracuse),” Hopkins said. “You sit there and you watch and even though you have a good feeling that you’re in, until your name is called there’s always that thought of was there an earthquake, a tornado, a monsoon that nobody told me about? Just to hear you’re name called, it’s just incredible.”
Utah State’s last NCAA Tournament appearance also came in 2011. The Aggies last won a tournament game in 2001 when it beat Ohio State, 77-68, in overtime. They won the Mountain West regular season and tournament championship this season.
UW is coming off a lopsided 68-48 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship. The Huskies shot 22 percent in the second half, scoring just 22 points on six field goals. It was their lowest second-half point total of the season.
After the game, UW’s locker room was silent, filled with palpable disappointment and frustration. But Crisp said making the NCAA Tournament served as reset button.
“We use it as motivation,” Crisp said. “We use it as fuel to the fire. Everybody hates losing. … Having our name called today was just a whole new burst of energy and hunger and motivation. We’re ready to get back to work and get ready for Utah State.”
Every team wants to be playing its best basketball in March, Hopkins said, but the Huskies seemed to play theirs during their 10-0 start to Pac-12 play. But even with their recent slide, the Huskies have yet to suffer back-to-back losses this season. That’s a trend they’ll hope to continue come Friday.
“We’re been able to resilient and come back and play,” Hopkins said. “The tournament is what everybody dreams of making. Now you’re a part of that. We flushed (the loss) last night down the toilet.”
Along with UW, Pac-12 schools Arizona State and Oregon also made the field. The Ducks, who received the conference’s automatic bid, will face fifth-seeded Wisconsin. No. 11 seed Arizona State will head to the First Four to face fellow 11 seed St. John’s.