SEATTLE — After Washington’s fifth straight loss on Saturday — an 87-83 defeat at the hands of Arizona State — the Huskies were staring down a full week without another game.
Sometimes, teams are anxious to play again, to have the chance to sit with a win instead of a loss.
But that wasn’t the case for UW.
Everyone, from head coach Mike Hopkins down to his players, said the break was much-needed.
Since point guard Quade Green was declared academically ineligible shortly before the game against Stanford on Jan. 9, UW’s only win has been a 64-56 victory over Oregon State at home.
The Huskies have tried four different lineups in an attempt to find a rhythm — most recently moving freshmen Marcus Tsohonis and RaeQuan Battle both into the starting lineup — but they’re still in last place in the Pac-12. After the loss to the Sun Devils, Hopkins said UW needed a chance to reset and renew.
The Huskies won’t know if it worked until they take the floor against Washington State on Sunday.
“You look at their faces, and the game is meant to have fun,” Hopkins said. “These kids put so many expectations on themselves. Coaches bend them, push them, stress them. The game is meant to have fun, but there’s only one day to get out of it. Collective energy and teammates picking each other up. Getting to practice, not for a long time but being focused. And then there’s action.
“So many things are easy to talk about. There’s so many motivational speeches and stuff like that. This is a personal decision. We talked about even Kobe (Bryant): The Mamba Mentality. It’s a mentality. It’s not something that he talked about, it’s actually action when he goes and does it. That’s what I told these guys.”
Heading into last Thursday’s game against Arizona, Hopkins stressed the importance of making sure his team was still having fun.
But after falling to the Sun Devils, Tsohonis admitted that was getting harder.
“There’s disappointment in us, just in ourselves and heads hanging,” he said. “We’re just trying to get better and push through because we know we can play with every team in the conference. It’s not about that.”
Said junior Hameir Wright: “I see it as an opportunity for us to grow and learn. We’re not naive. We know what our goals are. We can’t let the disappointment kind of overwhelm us. That’s what happens when a lot of teams start losing. You’re hitting skids not because of the physical stuff but because of the mental stuff. I feel if I can just be one of the people to bring our mental up each game, it will help us in the long run to accomplish our goals.”
If there has been one positive Huskies recently, it’s Wright. Over the last four games, he’s averaged 11 points on 56.5 percent shooting from the field — including 61.1 percent from the three-point line — and 5.8 rebounds. He’s set career highs for points (14), minutes (37), field goals made (4), assists (5) and steals (5) in that span.
“It’s weird,” Wright said. “You kind of know the expectations you have for yourself coming into the season. You see that things aren’t panning out that way. You start worrying about the external factors. That’s kind of what I did. I tried to cut all of the external factors out that was in my life and that was kind of hindering my goals as a team and us moving forward. If you’re playing for the guy next to you and you’re playing for our goals moving forward and just for the love of the game — win, lose or draw — and keep getting better every time.”
It’s the exact mentality Hopkins was searching for from his upperclassmen when he demanded more from them shortly after the loss to Cal in early January.
Later, he clarified he wasn’t necessarily searching for better stats — although Wright has provided that, too — he just needed UW’s more experienced players to set the tone for a young roster.
It’s taken some time, but lately it appears Wright has willingly stepped into that role. Now, the Huskies are hoping he can help them get on track over the final stretch of the regular season.
“He’s been really, really good,” Hopkins said. “I’m really proud of him. Right now, when you’re talking about the bright spots, he’s the bright spot.”