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.”
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