Truthfully, when conference play started, I was about two bad games away from being completely done with the Huskies. They were playing like they deserved to finish in eighth place in the conference, as predicted. Jernard Jarreau tore his ACL two minutes into the season opener. In their first four games, they shot 24% from beyond the arc. After losing to #10 UConn, the UW seemed to play a little better, winning their next two before Pac-12 play. The Dawgs were 8-5 before playing 11-2 Arizona State, and going into the game I was less than optimistic. I actually didn’t watch it, mostly because it was on Pac-12 Network (DirecTV, can you please sign a contract with the Pac-12 already), but also I just figured they would get blown out.
Well, around halftime, I checked the score on my phone. I remember saying sarcastically to my friend: “Hey, let’s guess how much the Huskies are losing by now!” The page loaded, and I was shocked: Washington 40, Arizona State 23.
The Huskies ended up winning the matchup 76-65. This game was followed by a close loss at #1 Arizona in which UW was actually ahead by two at the break. Washington then played Utah and #15 Colorado at home, and beat them both. Most impressive was the 71-54 defeat of Colorado; the first win against a ranked opponent since 2011 after losing their previous twelve contests. The Dawgs have turned it around and have won seven out of their last nine games. They are 3-1 in conference games, which has them tied for third place in the Pac-12.
What changed? It’s not C.J. Wilcox, who has been consistent the entire year; playing well enough to put himself in the NBA draft conversation. I think one of the factors is the performance of guard Andrew Andrews. The Dawgs have won the last five games in which Andrews scored more than 10 points. Freshman guard Nigel Williams-Goss has also been more consistent; turning the ball over less often.
CJ Wilcox is the clear leader of this Huskies team.
Despite being more successful as of late, the Huskies still have one major problem: rebounding. The loss of Jerreau is showing, as the Huskies have had to rely heavily on Perris Blackwell for the majority of their rebounding. He leads the team with 7.6 RPG, but the next four leading rebounders on the team are all guards (Anderson, Williams-Goss, Wilcox, Andrews). A surprise to me has been Mike Anderson, new to the team this season from Moberly Area CC. He has helped pick up the slack and is averaging 6.6 boards per game.
This week, the Huskies are traveling to the Bay Area to play Cal and Stanford.
Big picture time again. March Madness. Looking forward from this point, will Washington make the tournament?
It is possible. There are 14 games left in the season. UW is now 11-6 (3-1 Pac-12), and if they can win at least 11 out of the last 14 games (final record of 22-9) and play well in the Pac-12 tournament they could be selected. 11 of 14 is a lot, but their schedule is fairly easy from here on out; the only ranked teams that the Huskies will play from here on out are #21 Colorado and #25 UCLA, but the rankings could change. Let’s not forget Cal and Oregon either, both of whom the Huskies play twice from here on out. Another key to making the tournament is to upset better teams, like UCLA, Cal and Oregon. The remaining games are evenly split between home and away: seven at Hec Ed and seven on the road. And regardless of how many games they win or lose, if the Dawgs win the conference tournament they automatically make the March Madness bracket. In my opinion, Washington has an outside chance of making the tournament.
So midway through the season, I can say with confidence that I think the Huskies will finish higher than eighth place in the Pac-12. With Arizona around, they probably won’t take first in the conference but a top three finish is definitely feasible. In regards to the NCAA tournament, only time will tell.