For starters, I’m calling this season an unequivocal success, so if you came here for anything other than glowing praise, there’s the door.
The goal for this season heading in was to contend for the Pac-12 Championship, and get into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. While the pre-season was moderately underwhelming (9-4 with no bad losses, but also no quality wins), the conference season started off like gangbusters, winning 10 in a row, including a road win over Oregon. There weren’t many quality wins left to be had the rest of the way, but ultimately the Huskies won the regular season conference title outright, and got to the Pac-12 Tournament Finals before losing to those same Ducks (who as of this writing have made it to the Sweet 16 as a 12-seed).
Rightly, the Huskies were given a 9-seed. If the season ended last Friday against Utah State, I think we all would’ve been disappointed, but ultimately seen it as a worthwhile experience. I was in Reno, as I am every year, for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and for the first time in the 7 years we’ve been doing this trip, I’ve gotten to watch my team go at it on a national stage. It was the thrill of my adult life to be able to put money down on my team in a game that actually mattered.
It was even better when we won as underdogs and I got to cash out on a moneyline bet.
The Huskies – against the 28-7 Aggies – got out to a hot start, taking a 40-28 lead. That left me scrambling down to the Silver Legacy sportsbook to see the second half odds, which were Washington +6. I immediately put whatever money I could find on the Huskies to cover that spread, and it paid off, as we actually won the second half as well by 5 points, for an end result of 78-61. It was magical!
Noah Dickerson was thought to have a tough matchup against the Utah State bigs, but he fought hard for his 20 points and 12 boards to lead the way. Jaylen Nowell added 19 points, 5 assists, and 5 boards; Naz Carter brought 13 points and 4 assists off the bench; and David Crisp chipped in with 8 points in his criminally-short game (he fouled out somehow, having played only 24 minutes). Matisse Thybulle did Matisse Thybulle things, with 10 points, 5 steals, 3 blocks, 3 boards, and 2 assists, which we all agreed would’ve made an excellent prop bet if the sportsbooks had any balls.
On the flipside, the Aggies’ leading scorer heading into it – Sam Merrill – had been averaging nearly 21 points per game. There WAS a prop bet on him, that started out at over/under 20 points, but ballooned up to over/under 22 points. Knowing the Huskies excel in stopping the other team’s best player, I talked all my friends into shorting him and taking the under; he finished with 10 points (I believe all in the second half) on 2/9 shooting as we had fun mocking him throughout the game.
That brought us to a matchup against North Carolina on Sunday morning, the 1-seed in the region and a team many have pegged as the best in the country. In my mind, it was a foregone conclusion that our season would end right then and there, but I nevertheless placed a couple of moderate bets on the Dawgs (truth be told, if I were an impartial observer, I would’ve bet the family farm on UNC to cover).
Whereas the Huskies shot 49% from the floor (a whopping 58.8% from three) against Utah State, we were only able to muster 38.3% from the floor (31% from three) against UNC. Those are the only numbers you need to know, as the Tar Heels were SCORCHING hot against our zone defense in beating us 81-59 (50.8% from the field, 42.9% from three). They just fucking destroyed us on the boards, including a 15-8 offensive rebounding advantage, and a 33-16 overall advantage. Part of me did think we could cover whatever the spread was (12 points I think?) but it was looking pretty grim at half, down 41-33. It got a lot worse from there, as they outscored us 40-26 in the second frame.
Even if our defense was its usual stifling self, I couldn’t tell you how many wide open jumpers clanged off the rim, as it just looked like we were exhausted throughout. Nowell led the way with 12 points, while Dickerson and Carter each added 10. Thybulle had the hardest day shooting (1/8 from the field, 0/5 from three for all of 2 points) even though the rest of his line looked like its usual solid self.
In the end, it was a disappointing way to go out (we also lost to UNC the last time we were in the Tourney in 2011), but not entirely unexpected. I still contend the season was a roaring success, and there are much better things in store for the program (not the least of which due to Mike Hopkins, who was extended another 6 years with a raise for winning two Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards in his two seasons with the team).
Next year, let’s run it back with another Pac-12 title, but this time let’s see if we can reach the Sweet 16! Getting Nowell to stay another year would be a big help, but that’s a topic for another time.
I’m proud of these Dawgs. While they’ve been frustrating to watch at times over the last four years, I’m glad their hard work and loyalty to the program was rewarded with actual games in the NCAA Tournament.