SEATTLE – During his four-year tenure with the Washington men’s basketball team, coach Mike Hopkins hasn’t lost many nonconference games at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Before Wednesday’s 66-58 loss to Montana, Gonzaga was the only team outside the Pac-12 to beat the Huskies on their home court. And those were Bulldogs teams ranked No. 1 and 9 in the nation, respectively.
Washington’s latest loss could be just a blip on Hopkins’ otherwise impressive résumé that includes a 23-3 home record in nonconference games.
Or the disappointing setback might be emblematic of a 1-5 UW team that’s off to its worst start since 1993.
Adding insult to injury, Washington paid Montana $50,000 to play Wednesday’s game, according to the Missoulian.
Here are three impressions from the game:
Feed Big Nate and Mount Riley
It appears Hopkins made a serious miscalculation when he retooled UW’s offense, de-emphasizing its low-post production and prioritizing its perimeter attack.
Before the season, Hopkins believed a vast array of 3-point specialists – including Quade Green, Erik Stevenson and RaeQuan Battle – would carry a thin front line depleted by the loss of one-and-done players Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, who both bolted to the NBA.
Hopkins said the 3-point shot was the “great equalizer in college basketball” and envisioned Washington shooting between 25 and 30 shots from behind the arc.
Six games into the season, it’s clear that UW’s offensive strategy doesn’t fit its personnel.
Washington ranks 298th among 323 Division I teams on 3-pointers, shooting 25.8%.
Here’s a look at UW’s 3-point shooting this season: Baylor (5 of 24), UC Riverside (3 of 20), Utah (6 of 30), Seattle University (8 of 15) and Oregon (7 of 19).
Against Montana, the Huskies were 2 of 12.
The switch to a four-guard, perimeter offense has a ripple effect that weakens UW’s rebounding and its ability to draw fouls.
It took Washington far too long Wednesday to realize it had mismatches in the paint with Nate Roberts, an athletic and bouncy 6-foot-10 forward, and 7-4 backup center Riley Sorn.
Roberts finished with 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting and 10 rebounds, and Sorn had 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting.
UW’s emerging post players were its best offensive weapon on a night when leading scorer Green dealt with constant double teams and finished with four points on 1-for-11 shooting.
Through the first five games, Hopkins expressed dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the Huskies while maintaining his eternally positive outlook. At times he questioned Green’s shot selection or the post players’ inability to rebound.
But for the first time this season, Hopkins voiced displeasure and pointed criticism following the Montana defeat when asked about the slumping production from Jamal Bey and Stevenson.
The UW starters combined for five points on 2-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and six turnovers.
Stevenson, the Wichita State transfer who is averaging 5.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 2.8 turnovers while shooting 28.9% from the field and 21.1% on 3-pointers, was benched at halftime and did not play in the second half.
Bey logged 10 minutes after the break and had one point, two rebounds and a steal.
“My biggest thing with them is just play hard,” Hopkins said. “Play for your team, and play as hard as you can.
“That’s all I care about. I didn’t see that. Didn’t see it. I’m playing energy. I’m playing guys who are fighting and fighting for that uniform. And they’re fighting together. Bottom line.”
Hopkins replaced Stevenson with backup guard and former North Idaho college standout Nate Pryor, who has been one of the few bright spots for the Huskies.
“Nate Pryor, I love, and he inspires me,” Hopkins said. “When you have a player that plays to win with no agenda and how the game is going – if you can get all five guys to do that on your team or everyone on the court at the same time, then you have a great chance to win.
“Other players have to take that, and that has to be them. We have no one on our team that’s good enough to carry this team by themselves. It has to be about the team. It has to be. And we will fight for that. And whoever is going to do that is going to play.”
Over/under: 5 wins
Basketball statistician and analytics guru Ken Pomeroy predicts that the Huskies will finish with a 5-20 record, including 4-16 in the Pac-12.
Of course, there’s no guarantee UW will play its remaining 19 games, considering the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the college basketball season and forced many teams to postpone or cancel games.
Still, that’s a bleak forecast, which includes UW defeating Washington State and California. (Apparently, Pomeroy isn’t putting much stock in WSU’s 5-0 start.)
Another predictive website, RealTimeRPI, has Washington finishing 10-15, which includes a three-game winning streak starting Sunday against Colorado, followed by what appears to be difficult games against Arizona and Arizona State.
At this point, it’s difficult to look at the schedule and find games in which the Huskies will be favored.
Washington’s worst finish in the past 100 years was a 5-22 record during the 1993-94 season when Bob Bender took over the program. Coincidentally, UW started 1-5. that season.
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