Washington basketball falls to 0-3 to Utah, 76-62.
Washington basketball fans had been waiting for a shooting performance congruent with the talent on the floor for two games. They will have to continue to wait after watching the Huskies fall to 0-3 for the first time since 2002 in their Pac-12 opener against Utah in Salt Lake.
The Huskies put up some fight, but their shooting eluded them again enough to stifle any hopes of keeping up for much of the game. Marcus Tsohonis, RaeQuan Battle, Cole Bajema and Erik Stevenson combined to shoot 2-for-15 from beyond the arc. Even more distressing, the Utes scored 23 points off Washington turnovers. Despite some promising things from Quade Green and the Huskies frontcourt, the Utes were just too much, leading by as much as 23 later in the second half.
Basketball is not intransigent, but there are realities that dictate the extent to which a flawed team can overcome its destabilizing forces. The point is this — Washington has shot under 40% in all three of its games. They entered this game 265th out of 266 Division I teams in scoring (47 ppg), tied for 259th in three-point field goal percentage (18.2%) and 256th in field goal percentage (33%). If those numbers don’t increase, the number in the win column obviously won’t either. That being said, there’s plenty of belief that this can/will get better as conference play rolls on.
UW also did show more fight than the previous two showings against a team that is objectively significantly better than UC Riverside (although Utah was disadvantaged a bit by this being their first game after limited practice due to a COVID outbreak). They only trailed by 5 at halftime, thanks largely to more assertiveness down low from Nate Roberts (12 points, 13 rebounds) and Hameir Wright (7 points, 10 rebounds) as well as a general scrappiness on both ends of the floor we hadn’t seen much of in the first two games. 7-4 Riley Sorn coming in and getting 8 points, 6 boards and 2 blocks with some eye-popping plays in 16 minutes was encouraging too.
These are the sorts of positives the Husky fans who are already calling for Hopkins’ job will need to get used to, at least for now — incremental, game-to-game improvements, even if it doesn’t reflect as strongly in the box score. That feels more productive than an excess of promise early in the season followed by a precipitous implosion.
Also, Green’s insistence that he wants to be the best point guard in the nation by the end of the year feels like it has gained some validity. This was probably his best performance in a Husky uniform to date (21 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists in 30 minutes). He filled the gaps in the offense the best that his skillset allowed, and was responsible for practically every catalyzing play — including a layup to trim the lead to 5 halfway through the second half and a 3-pointer that broke up the ensuing drought when the Utes came storming back. They would go on to push the lead all the way to 23 soon after, and didn’t look back.
Those runs also made it clear that aggressiveness from Green is hardly enough to prop up the offense for long stretches. Given what we know, Battle, Stevenson, Tsohonis and Bajema are all expected to convert at least at a decent clip — not one of the worst in the nation. Battle had an unfortunate night with not one, but two 3-pointers waved off, but even if those counted, he’d be 3-10. The volume of shooting (and much of the time on lower-quality or hurried shots) cost them possessions when only one of either Wright or Roberts were on the court. That is a trend that cannot continue as they head into conference play seeking to establish themselves.
The Huskies hopefully will get a chance to show some proficiency in dispatching Seattle U next Wednesday before facing Oregon next Saturday, so perhaps beating Seattle U can give some level of confidence hosting the Ducks after an extended stay in Seattle. It could be a season-swinging stretch for them.
Conversely, optimism might be difficult to come by for the rest of conference play if this stretch of games doesn’t go well. Let’s hope it does.