SEATTLE – With the shot-clock buzzer a tick away midway through the second half, David Crisp launched a rainbow 3 from just this side of Lake Washington. Ripped. The crowd at Alaska Airlines Arena howled as the rout was on, a 66-56 victory for the Washington Huskies over the Cal Bears.
“I knew it was going in when it left his hands,’’ said freshman guard Jaylen Nowell, UW’s leading scorer with 20 points.
“After that, you could see [the Cal players] hang their heads, but we kept attacking.”
Someday in the future, Seattle will have an NBA team again. But for all the hoop fans desperate for your fix, something cool is happening over at Montlake.
The Huskies are good again. In fact, they’re close to becoming hip and trendy, the little team that could when almost everyone thought they couldn’t.
Thursday’s night’s victory makes UW a surprising 13-4 this season and 3-1 in Pac-12 play. If you say you saw this coming, you’re either lying or crazy.
Washington was 9-22 one year ago and 2-16 in conference, losing their last 13 games. That brought an ugly end to Lorenzo Romar’s time as the Huskies head coach.
Enter Mike Hopkins, a career second-fiddle to the Hall of Fame career of Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. Hopkins had a solid reputation in the coaching community, but this was new for him and he wasn’t exactly inheriting the Golden State Warriors. Just a .500 season seemed a logical first-year accomplishment.
The Huskies are thinking otherwise. Adapting quickly to Hopkins’ 2-3 zone defense, playing with surprising discipline and never thinking they are outmanned, things started clicking.
The big confidence builder this season was a shocking 74-65 upset victory on the road over Kansas. The Huskies also started conference play with a convincing 88-81 win at Southern Cal.
After a dismal second half in the 74-53 loss at UCLA, Washington battled back at Pullman and beat Washington State 70-65. Then came the first conference home game with Cal in town.
The first half was a shooting mess for both teams from beyond the arc and ended with Washington up 28-24. Cal was 2 for 7 on treys and the Huskies were 3 for 13 before back-to-back 3s in the final 30 seconds, first by Nowell and another off a fast break by freshman Michael Carter III.
That was the spark, a little light for a team that seems to come alive when it gets rolling.
Thursday was no classic by any means. The Huskies had 20 turnovers, including six by Nowell, against a weak Cal team that falls to 7-10.
“We found a way again, but I want more,” Hopkins said. “It was ugly with a lot of bad turnovers. My expectations are higher. These guys have played a lot of games now.”
At one point in the second half, Washington had four freshman on the floor along with junior forward Noah Dickerson, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
‘‘We never get too high or too low,’’ Nowell said. “We just keep grinding and stay positive.”
So instead of a young team just hoping to get through the transition of a new coach trying to improve a losing program, Hopkins has a group with heart and grit, a team that could make the NCAA Tournament with hard work and little luck.
Basketball is fun again in these parts. Attending a UW game has become the cool thing to do.
“You’ve gotta teach these guys what it takes, teach them how to win,’’ Hopkins said after Thursday’s game. “You have to rely on fundamentals. The great teams have that and that’s where we’re trying to be.”
It’s all about the quarterback. That’s the lesson from the NFL playoffs last weekend and the college championship game Monday night.
We saw quarterback play at its best and its worst. Here’s my fun look back at what we learned:
Quarterback Hell -- The Buffalo-Jacksonville game proved the NFL doesn’t have 12 worthy playoff teams this season. The game was so bad it actually was fun to watch.
The Jaguars won 10-3 in a game with quarterback play that was one level below YMCA flag football. Blake Bortles of Jacksonville and Tyrod Taylor of Buffalo were so bad Saturday they wouldn’t have won a 12-year-old Punt, Pass & Kick contest.
On one throw, Bortles had a masterful helicopter pass, the opposite of a spiral. He wildly overthrew two short throws in the flat that Ray Charles could have completed.
The combined totals for Bortles and Taylor were 29 of 61 passes for 221 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
And yet, Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have a job.
Quarterback Heaven – On the opposite end of the QB spectrum we have a kid 99 percent of football fans never heard of until Monday night when a star was born.
Tua Tagovailoa, a 19-year Hawaiian and a true freshman who never has started a college game, pulled off one of the most remarkable performances off the bench in sports history.
Tagovailoa started the second half for Alabama and led the Tide to a 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia in the championship game after trailing 13-0 at the half and 20-7 in the third quarter.
And it was no fluke. From his first throw, the obvious response was “Who is this guy?”
Tagovailoa was 14 of 24 for 166 yards and three TDs, including a perfect 41-yard throw for the game-winning TD in OT. He also rushed for 47 yards. Tua reminded me of a left-handed Russell Wilson.
None of it would have happened without the gutsiest coaching decisions ever. Nick Saban deserves his sixth championship ring after benching Jalen Hurts, a quarterback who was 25-2 in his career.
Hurts handled the situation with complete class after the game, which will serve him well moving forward.
Quarterback Purgatory – Now comes the inevitable questions about whether Hurts stays at Alabama (he’ll be a junior in 2018) or whether he transfers since it appears Tagovailoa is Bama’s future.
If Hurts does opt to leave, he shouldn’t be penalized by having to sit out a year.
Georgia QB Jacob Eason will transfer to Washington and have to sit out the 2018 season, but any NCAA Division 1 coach can change schools and make millions of dollars without any delay, even though he left all the players he recruited.
It’s wrong and it needs to change. And don’t criticize these kids by questioning their loyalty if they opt to move on. These top-tier athletes have to do what’s best for their future if they are NFL-level talents.
Eason realizes Jake Fromm, who will be a sophomore in the 2018 season, is the man at Georgia as long as he’s healthy. Eason needs to go where he can showcase his skills and protect his future. If Hurt opts to do the same, no one should blame him.
Doug Baldwin went out of his way to say a lot of stuff while clearing out his locker Monday. Unfortunately, he really didn’t say much of anything.
The Seattle Seahawks wide receiver is known for his candor. He’s a passionate man who has grown into a team leader, on and off the field.
However, in this case, Baldwin beat around the bush. It was a media session to basically say: “I know something you don’t know and I’m not telling.”
Baldwin did make one clear statement on offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. In Baldwin’s view, the man who takes so much criticism from the fans is not to blame for the team’s woeful offense.
That aside, Baldwin was coy and condescending.
“If I talk to you about what I think are the issues, that wouldn’t be protecting the team,’’ Baldwin said. “I can’t say it. I really wish I could say more, but I’m not going to.”
Instead, Baldwin took the opportunity to rip reporters for not seeing what he’s not willing to reveal.
“Do any of you guys watch film,’’ he asked. “You make the narratives. You don’t watch tape and it really pisses us off sometimes as players. I’m not saying this to piss you guys off, but if you’re a journalist and your job is to do investigative reporting, then actually investigate and watch the film.”
First, this is football, not Russians infecting the national election. Second, most reporters do watch tape of the games.
But with Baldwin being clandestine is his response, he’s asking reporters to speculate on what he means. Is he upset with how quarterback Russell Wilson leaves the pocket too soon at times (which the tape shows)?
Is he upset with the lack of consistency on the offensive line or the abundance of senseless penalties? Is it mediocre running backs not getting to a hole quickly enough (also on tape). Is he upset that he’s often open but doesn’t get the ball thrown to him (which he’s on tape screaming about on the sidelines)?
No one knows for sure because Baldwin won’t say.
“I mean, I would love to sit up here and tell you exactly what the problem is, but I’m not going to do that,’’ Baldwin said. “I’m not going to tell you that.”
And that’s perfectly fine, but don’t expect everyone to read between the lines and understand what you’re trying to convey. Either say what you think or don’t say anything.
Insinuating problems without actually saying what they are is a disservice to the team, something Baldwin said he wants to avoid.
Baldwin may be the most underrated wide receiver in the NFL. He runs route and gains separation as well as anyone in the league, and he will catch it 99 percent of the time (often while well covered or near the sideline) if you throw it his way.
He also has done more than any player in the league to bring awareness and raise money for meaningful social change in a constructive manner to what the protests are all about.
But Baldwin only added controversy to a disappointing season by implying problems on the offense and forcing everyone to guess what he means.