It’s been a pretty cool first couple weeks of conference play for the Huskies. As the title states, we’re 2-1 so far through three games, all on the road. We kicked things off with a win over what I’m told is a pretty good USC team. We ran out to a big lead at halftime, withstood an early second half USC run, and took home a victory that featured USC shooting 3/20 from beyond the arc. Only time will tell if USC ends up being a quality team in the Pac-12, but I’ll say this: any road win against a conference opponent is a huge win.
The only blemish to what could’ve been an insanely great first two weeks of the conference season was a loss a couple days later against UCLA. In hindsight, it’s all the tougher because we had an 8-point halftime lead and just totally collapsed in the second half, as the Bruins outscored us 46-17. UCLA didn’t totally go off, hitting just 5 of 14 from deep, but they made their share of two’s, and hit 25/30 free throws to salt it away. The Huskies, meanwhile, somehow managed to hit only 2/27 from beyond the arc, which if it wasn’t a school record for futility, has to be close to it. Unfortunately, that’s just going to be the case with this team sometimes. As it is, we’re not the best 3-point shooting team even when we’re hitting our usual percentage of shots (David Crisp almost always does his part to drag down our average), but there are going to be times where we dip way below, and we – as fans – just have to hope that isn’t a regular occurrence, or else this thing could go south pretty quick.
We topped off our road trip by knocking off the Cougars 70-65 over the weekend. The Cougs are primarily a 3-point shooting team, and were held to 7/27 from deep. That’s exactly the type of team that plays into our hands, as the Husky zone is designed to limit shots from deep (or at least make them harder to hit).
I’ve finally seen a pattern start to develop when it comes to the Huskies. With the zone, outside shooting teams are going to be kept in check for the most part (though, I anticipate we’ll run into a game here and there where opposing shooting teams have a hot night and put us to bed early). Our zone needs to be working effectively, because we’re not the greatest offensive team, particularly from 3-point land. As long as it does, we should be in most games. As I noted, there will be times other teams just destroy our zone and shoot out of their minds, and there will be times where the Huskies hit a crazy percentage of shots and run the other team out of the gym. I feel like those games will cancel each other out, and the rest of the time it’s going to be close and it’s going to depend on how the Huskies close out games.
And, quite frankly, I’m encouraged by how the Huskies are closing things out! USC put a lot of pressure on the Dawgs in the second half of that game, and we hit enough shots and free throws to put things away. The UCLA game got away from us early in the second half, and that was just a flukey bad-shooting night, so write that one off. The Coug game, though, was pretty close all along, with lots of lead changes, and the Huskies did just enough late – with a particularly huge shot in the lane by Nowell, and a ton of breathtaking drives to the basket by Crisp – to get the W they deserved.
Now, I think we ratchet up expectations just a little bit. At 2-1, the Huskies are tied for second (with a lot of other teams) in the Pac-12. At 12-4, with a number of quality wins (and already 2 conference road wins), the NCAA Tournament is definitely in the conversation. Who expected that when the season started?
God bless Mike Hopkins. Let’s keep it going!