In its second game against a top-10 team this season, Washington came up just short. The Huskies fell to Gonzaga 81-79 on Wednesday night.
After Jaylen Nowell tied the score, 79-79, by hitting two foul shots with 9 seconds left, the Bulldogs went immediately down the floor. They found leading scorer Rui Hachimura, who knocked down the game-winning jumper with 1 second left. Dominic Green got off a last-second, half-court heave, but it fell short.
Even with the defeat, it was a strong performance from the Huskies. Here are three observations from the loss:
1. The Huskies can play with the top teams.
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Head coach Mike Hopkins has said all season that when UW is at its best, it can beat anyone. But the Huskies can lose to anyone, too. That much has been evident throughout the non-conference schedule, and even during the slim 70-61 exhibition victory over Seattle Pacific.
On Wednesday night, UW was a last-second shot away from taking No. 1 Gonzaga to overtime. The Huskies trailed by as many as 14 points during the game, but they kept battling back. UW arguably showed more promise in this loss than during any of its wins this season.
Even so, it was still a loss. And the Huskies need a big win for their NCAA Tournament resume.
UW loaded its non-conference schedule with challenging games in hopes of doing just that. The Huskies have a few solid wins, but missed their opportunity to post victories over No. 8 Auburn and Gonzaga. That’s why the Atlantic City Boardwalk Classic against No. 15 Virginia Tech on Dec. 15 is so important. UW has shown it can play with one of the best teams in the country. Now, it needs to beat one.
2. Hopkins wasn’t kidding about that assist-turnover ratio.
Hopkins said during a press conference this week that having more assists than turnovers is key to UW winning. Even though the Huskies didn’t beat Gonzaga, is was one of their more impressive outings of the season. And right there on the box score is one of the reasons why: 15 assists, nine turnovers.
The Huskies had 18 turnovers and 10 assists in the 88-66 loss to Auburn, seven assists and 17 turnovers in the narrow loss to Minnesota and 14 turnovers and 13 assists in the four-point victory over UC Santa Barbara on Sunday. The ratio isn’t just a talking point, it’s a sign that the Huskies are moving the ball and running their offensive effectively. That hasn’t been a given throughout the early part of the season.
When UW gets sped up, it stops making the right passes and turns the ball over. And when the Huskies turn the ball over once, it seems to spiral.
Against the Bulldogs, UW controlled the tempo, holding a team that entered the game averaging 98.4 points per game to 81. While there are no moral victories, Wednesday’s loss showed marked improvement for the Huskies in those areas.
3. Depth concerns continue.
The Huskies need more consistent contributions from players not named Nowell (26 points) and Noah Dickerson (18 points). During the loss to Gonzaga, Matisse Thybulle filled that role, scoring 18 points. And point guard David Crisp was nearly in double figures, too. He finished with nine points and four assists.
That’s the type of box score UW needs to finish with more often, especially on a night when Dickerson and Hameir Wright both fouled out.
The Huskies aren’t a deep team, with only three bench players getting regular time off the bench. Hopkins has said he needs to work on developing more depth, and he’s right. While Nahziah Carter and Wright can often be counted on for a boost off the bench, UW needs more from occasional starter Sam Timmins. Timmins had just two points and three rebounds against the Bulldogs.
Freshmen Jamal Bey and Bryan Penn-Johnson could play a larger roles as the season moves forward. Hopkins has pointed to both as players he needs to get on the floor more often. Only Bey played against Gonzaga. He was on the floor for four minutes and didn’t score.