Before Saturday night, it had been nearly two months since Washington lost a basketball game, since the players walked off the court with their heads down, since head coach Mike Hopkins addressed a defeated locker room.
The Huskies last lost on Dec. 15 to Virginia Tech in the Boardwalk Classic. After that game, they put together a 12-game winning streak and started Pac-12 play 10-0. They recorded two road sweeps in the process, shooting to first place in the conference.
UW tried to rally in its 75-63 loss to Arizona State, getting as close as seven points in the second half after falling behind by 18. But this time — for the first time in conference play — the Huskies couldn’t get all the way back.
Asked about his message to his players after the game, Hopkins repeated one word: Proud.
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“Sometimes, you just don’t have your A-game,” he said. “The main thing I was proud about was they fought. These kids came out and they fought. Was it pretty? No. But we fought. Are there areas they we have to get better? No question.
“The team that we want to be, from our turnovers to some of our shots to getting strong with the ball, those are the little thing that we have to do to become a better team.”
Those are some of the issues UW will be looking to address during practice this week. The Huskies have a week off before they travel to Washington State on Saturday, and the break couldn’t be coming at a better time.
UW dealt with injuries and illness during its trip to Arizona. Noah Dickerson, who sprained his ankle in the win over UCLA, didn’t start in either game but played in both. After the loss to the Sun Devils, he said he felt 80 to 85 percent healthy.
Several players and coaches also struggled with flu-like symptoms. Hameir Wright made the trip but was too sick to play against Arizona or Arizona State. Hopkins inserted Sam Timmins and Dominic Green into the starting lineup to replace Dickerson and Wright.
“A lot of us are kind of banged up,” Dickerson said. “Hameir was just super sick. Guys are banged up. It’s a good time to get a bunch of practice under our belt and get our bodies back healthy.”
While Dickerson didn’t want the Huskies’ winning streak to end, he knew it was bound to happen.
“It does suck to lose but we left it all on the court, we really did,” Dickerson said. “We fought back. … We fought, we fought, we fought. Some days it doesn’t fall your way.”
Eventually the Huskies were going to have an off night, Hopkins said.
“Human nature is a thing,” he said. “At the end of the day, as a coach, you try to prepare them, get them rest, get them prepared. They’ve got to go out and perform for (12) straight games. These guys really came out head first and their energy levels have been great.
“Tonight, we just didn’t have that same kick. Sometimes that happens. We tried to find it. We battled. We showed a lot of grit. The seniors stepped up in a lot of different ways. It’s just one of those things.”
Despite UW not experiencing a loss since December, neither Hopkins nor Dickerson said they were concerned about how the Huskies would respond. UW has yet to to lose consecutive games this season.
The Huskies are still comfortably at the top of the conference standings at 10-1. Every other team in the Pac-12 has at least four losses.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Dickerson said. “We’re an older team. We’re a veteran team. We understand.”