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Lack of respect for Pac-12 in polls no bother for UW Huskies’ Mike Hopkins

UW Huskies HC Mike Hopkins' team is returning to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. (AP)

In just Mike Hopkins’ second year as UW Huskies head coach, the Dawgs (21-5 overall, 12-1 Pac-12) are having their best season since 2009 and are the only team in the Pac-12 to remain undefeated at home. Despite that, Washington is unranked; the Huskies are sitting four spots outside of the AP Top 25, having gathered 20 votes in the last poll.

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Critics have pointed to the overall competition level in the conference, as for the first time in eight years no Pac-12 team can be found in the Top 25.

That sentiment used to bother Hopkins. But now, he shakes it off.

“To be honest with you, last year I really did (let Pac-12 criticism bother me),” Hopkins said on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk Friday. “I’m a Pac-12 guy now. I’ve been in the ACC and I’ve been in the Big East. I think the conference has got great coaches and great programs. You always go through cycles of good years and bad years.

“But I’ve realized that the only thing you can control is going out and winning and playing your best basketball. Don’t get sidetracked. It’s just like what you try to tell your kids: you’ve got to focus on the things you can control. I think when you play in a league, a Power 5 conference – one of the top six or seven college basketball leagues in the country – and you can have the type of year that we’ve had, I mean, that’s tough to do. I think we’ve got a good team and we’re just going to focus on what we do. That’s hopefully playing great defense, playing together, and we keep shooting the ball well.”

The Huskies didn’t start the season with as much steam, though. While they were ranked 25th in the preseason, they fell out of the AP poll due to a loss to Auburn in the first week of play, and subsequent non-conference losses to Minnesota, Gonzaga and Virginia Tech stood in their way of a return to the top 25. So what’s the biggest difference between the start of the season and now?

“I think we obviously had experience coming in, but it was really one year of experience,” Hopkins said. “We had veteran players, years-wise, but who were still only one year into the program. And we played, I think, a really hard schedule and we were challenged. We didn’t play our best basketball early, but I really think the idea was that it would really help us in conference play. We didn’t shoot the ball well I think in the non-conference (schedule) and we didn’t defend the 3 as well as we needed to. And so I think those two areas (improved) when we got into conference play.

“We’ve improved shooting the 3-point shot and we’ve really improved in defending the 3-point shot. It’s the biggest weapon of the game and I think it’s been the biggest difference.”

Listen to Hopkins’ interview with 710 ESPN Seattle in the audio clip embedded above.

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