The annual trip to the Bay Area brought the Huskies men’s basketball team back to earth. But at least they are not beneath it.
Three days after a grim loss to a Cal team that had been winless in Pac-12 Conference play, Washington rediscovered its defense just enough to hang on, 62-61 against Stanford Sunday afternoon in Palo Alto.
Despite the 76-73 loss to the Bears, UW (23-6, 14-2) backed into its third outright conference crown and the fifth conference championship since 1953, thanks to losses by Oregon State and Arizona State. But anyone thinking the Huskies would take out their embarrassment at losing to the Bears (2-15, 7-22) on the Cardinal, was mistaken.
In foul trouble early and often, the Huskies had to go through eight ties and 17 lead changes before prevailing against the Cardinal (15-14, 8-9), which generously missed 10 of their 25 free throws to fall by its own hand.
At least the Huskies, whose defense leads the Pac-12 with a 64-point average, down the stretch got cranky.
“We got four stops on the final five possessions,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “We were tough.
“I felt in the Cal game, we played good enough offensively, but we didn’t fight on the defensive end. We needed to get back to what we do. Coming in, Stanford was 0-8 in games under 70 points. Now they’re 0-9. That was the key.”
The win did something for pride but did little to knock down the argument that being the Pac-12 champ was little more than being the world’s tallest dwarf.
The Huskies have home games remaining against Oregon State Wednesday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) and Saturday versus Oregon (7 p.m., ESPN) before the start of the league tournament in Las Vegas. But two more wins likely won’t blow away much stink from the debacle in Berkeley, the first bad loss in a season without a signature win.
Presuming the Huskies win the league tourney — a much bigger presumption than a week earlier — the NCAA tournament selection committee may award the Huskies with a less favorable seed than what the purple optimists envisioned. And if they don’t win the automatic berth that goes with the tourney title, the shot at an at-large bit shrinks because of the ick factor of the Pac-12.
But at least the Huskies didn’t spit up a second time on the trip.
“After the Cal game, they were all over us on the internet, talking about, they’re done; they’re not that good,” Hopkins said. “That’s all Twitter talk. If we worry about that, we ain’t gonna be good. All it is, is BS.”
It looked like much more than BS with 10 seconds to go when Jaylen Nowell missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw to give the Cardinal a chance to win. Out of timeouts, Stanford, which beat Washington State 98-50 Thursday, ended up with an off-balance 3-point shot from J.Z. Okpala, who drew more than two dozen NBA scouts to observe a potential draft lottery pick. He missed, and the taller hosts couldn’t secure the rebound away from Noah Dickerson as the horn sounded.
Okpala, who had 22 points in the teams’ first meeting, was held to six points and four rebounds.
With 15 minutes remaining, Nowell, Dickerson and reserve Naz Carter all had four fouls. But none fouled out as Hopkins shuffled the lineup and found enough production from backups.
“When we got in foul trouble our bench gave us some really good minutes,” Hopkins said. “We didn’t play great, but it was a team effort. After that (Cal) loss, the sky was falling.”
Nowell led Washington, which shot 35 percent from the field (same as Stanford), with 13 points. Stanford, which played without starter Daejon Davis, a former Garfield High School star and Washington recruit, because of a foot injury, was led by seven-foot senior center Josh Sharma with 16.