SEATTLE (AP) — Until just a couple of weeks ago, the only loss on Baylor’s resume had come at the hands of Washington.
Until the end of December, the Huskies and their talented group of freshmen were ranked in the bottom half of the AP Top 25.
As Washington begins it’s final road trip of the conference season this weekend at the Arizona schools, the Huskies find themselves stuck in last place in the Pac-12. They are 3-13 in conference play, a dismal record that included a nine-game losing streak and a series of unfathomable losses.
Unless Washington can sweep Arizona and Arizona State and Oregon State loses its last two games, the Huskies will finish in last place a year after winning the regular-season title.
So, what happened?
“We haven't pulled off games due to a lot of different kind of scenarios,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said. “It could be lack of foul shooting one game, it could be your defense wasn't pinpoint, it could be a great player shoots at the end of a game when guys take over. ... You can't rush the process. We are who we are, we just got to try to get better every day.”
There are many reasons Washington finds itself in a situation that seemed unthinkable when the season began. They started with one of the top freshman classes in the country, anchored by Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, and had added former Kentucky guard Quade Green.
Stewart has been great, McDaniels has flashed his NBA potential at times, but it was the loss of Green to academic ineligibility in early January that started Washington’s downturn.
Couple Green’s loss with having to rely heavily on freshmen, some of the Huskies holdovers from last year’s team having plateaued or regressed, and it’s a recipe for a down season.
But no one expected the Huskies, with two likely first-round picks, to be this bad.
It’s a drastic turnaround from Hopkins’ first two seasons on Montlake. He led the Huskies to 21 wins two years ago then last year ended Washington’s long NCAA Tournament drought with a senior-laden team.
This year, the lack of experience has become apparent, especially in close games. Washington is 0-9 in conference play in games decided by six points or less. They’ve been excruciatingly competitive, but unable to finish in the closing moments. For 35 minutes, Washington may be one of the best teams in the country. For the final five minutes, there have been some forgettable moments and unthinkable meltdowns, most notably losses at Stanford and at Utah.
“Experience matters. And that's a big thing,” Hopkins said. “Doesn't matter how talented you are if you don’t play together as a team, and I think that’s one thing with inexperience and youth is that process of building and molding over time helps.”
Hopkins is also responsible for some of the missteps. The loss of Green left the Huskies without a true point guard and ended up with Marcus Tsohonis having to burn his redshirt to be inserted into the lineup at midseason.
Fellow freshman RaeQuan Battle has seen his minutes fluctuate, while junior Nahziah Carter and Hameir Wright have been inconsistent.
But it remains an extremely talented group and that’s what Hopkins is trying to preach going into this weekend’s games and into next week's conference tournament in Las Vegas.
Hopkins still thinks the team that beat Baylor and nearly knocked off Gonzaga can re-emerge and possibly make some noise in the tourney.
“It just takes a little bit of a spark. And, unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of opportunity to get that spark and we haven't,” Hopkins said. “But at any time we can get it. Get some momentum going in the right direction. And that's when magic happens.”