DANNY ONEIL

Huskies are biggest surprise in Seattle sports in more than a decade

Feb 4, 2018, 10:35 PM | Updated: Feb 5, 2018, 7:59 am
Dominic Green's buzzer beater lifted the Huskies to a huge win over No. 9 Arizona. (AP)...
Dominic Green's buzzer beater lifted the Huskies to a huge win over No. 9 Arizona. (AP)
(AP)

I didn’t expect much from Washington basketball this season.

Wait. That doesn’t accurately depict just how low I had set the bar.

I had not expected less from a Huskies’ hoops team since I was a freshman, when the program was so sorry that students got free admission, hamburgers were thrown into the crowd during timeouts by Peppy (the happy Dick’s Drive-In delivery boy), and Washington finished with a record of 5-22.

UW’s Matisse Thybulle talks about Huskies’ surprising turnaround

I have two striking memories of that 1993-94 season:

First was Sam Allen. He was a junior-college transfer, and the reason I remember him is that he got his upper lip caught in the net while completing a slam dunk. Seriously. His face became entangled in the net after the ball passed through, resulting in a cut that required stitches. Yep, even the dunks hurt that year.

The second memorable thing is that Washington beat Arizona at home. And that home victory over the Wildcats is about the only thing that Husky team can share with this one, which has turned out to be the single biggest surprise in Seattle sports in the last decade.

It’s absolutely unbelievable what this team has done, not just in Saturday’s buzzer-beating victory over No. 9 Arizona, but throughout this season. The Huskies have beaten a Kansas team ranked No. 2 at the time. They’ve won on the road against a USC team that has been ranked in the top 10, then last week tacked on not just one but two more victories against ranked opponents.

I can’t decide what is more amazing: that Washington has done this in spite of losing four of the top five players from what was going to be the best recruiting class in school history after Lorenzo Romar was fired, or that the Huskies have done this while starting four players who were on last year’s team, which won all of two games in the conference in spite of having the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (Markelle Fultz).

This doesn’t look like the same team. That’s a credit to what Mike Hopkins has done in his first year as head coach. It’s also a credit to what these players have done.

Washington has one player with an NBA-caliber offensive game: Jaylen Nowell. The Huskies also have a talented and persistent low-post scorer in Noah Dickerson. They have a great defender in Matisse Thybulle, who fits perfectly atop the 2-3 zone this team is committed, too.

The Huskies also have a toughness that they never showed even a hint of last season, and more than halfway through the conference schedule, they’re standing in third place in the conference. It’s absolutely incredible.

We don’t often get surprised like this in sports.

We know too much as fans. We know about recruits. We know about a team’s history. We know enough to handicap the schedule, and while we’re wrong about things all the time, it’s usually in small degrees. Philadelphia’s Super Bowl victory qualifies as an upset, but really, how big of a surprise is it? The Eagles lost only two three games all season — two when they were actually trying — and were in a winner-take-all scenario.

It’s way less common to think a team is going to be terrible and have it turn out to be pretty good. And that’s exactly what the Huskies are. Pretty good. Like make-the-tournament good.

And I’ve never been this happy to be this wrong. This team isn’t just tougher, together. It’s tough. Period.

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