It hasn’t happened since 1912.
The last time Washington began conference play with three wins and all of them being on the road, the Titantic embarked on its final voyage, New Mexico and Arizona became the 47th and 48th states and William Howard Taft was president.
Following tonight’s 65-60 win at Stanford, Washington started Pac-12 play with three straight road wins. The Huskies moved into a second-place tie with Arizona State at 3-0 in the league standings. The Sun Devils play Oregon on Sunday so UW will either fall to third place, gain sole possession of second place or move into a second-place tie with the Ducks.
Either scenario is a positive outcome for a team few predicted would contend for a Pac-12 title.
After two weeks of conference play, Washington has three road wins, which is a clam no one else in the Pac-12 can make. It also makes the Huskies, the defending regular-season champions, one of the early favorites to win the league race.
You can’t overstate how startling the past couple of weeks have been for the Huskies. Hardly anyone gave them a chance to win three straight games on the road following a 61-53 defeat at Connecticut.
The Huskies were supposed to fold up like a tent these last two weeks and fans were more focused on next season and the possibility of landing superstar recruit Aaron Gordon than the 2012-13 campaign that began with three embarrassing home defeats.
But suddenly, Washington looks as if it can exceed modest expectations. The Huskies were picked to finish fifth in the preseason media poll. And there’s nothing to suggest their three-game winning streak will end anytime soon.
Next up are Colorado, Utah and Oregon State, which have a combined 1-10 Pac-12 record.
The way the Huskies (11-5, 3-0) have been playing defense lately, they can beat anyone on their schedule.
After holding California to 47 points Wednesday – it was a season low for the Golden Bears and a UW opponent – Washington handcuffed Stanford to a season-low tying 60 points. The Cardinal shot 39 percent from the field and 17.6 percent (3 of 17) on three-pointers.
The Huskies also had more rebounds (37-29) and did a better of job of getting to the free throw line where they made 13 of 19 foul shots. Stanford was 11 of 14.
After the game, C.J. Wilcox (above) talked about Washington developing an identity of being tough and physical. Those traits haven’t often been used to describe Wilcox, but that’s starting to change. How else to describe someone who collects a career-high nine rebounds, scores 27 points – 16 in the second half – and makes two blocks in 35 minutes.
Still, the toughness tag often gets pinned on Desmond Simmons and Aziz N’Diaye. Both were catalysts in the win.
So to was coach Lorenzo Romar, who decided to use Simmons to defend 6-10 Dwight Powell and put N’Diaye on 6-7 Josh Huestis. The defensive gambit paid big dividends for the Huskies. Powell still had a nice game (19 points and five rebounds), but he worked overtime for his points. Meanwhile Huestis (six points on 3-for-13 shooting) was a non-factor offensively. It could be argued Huestis shot Stanford out of the game.
Washington got a lot of mileage in the final minutes from its new high-post offense. Notice the Huskies’ composure at the end of games. Washington is comfortable to milk the shot clock with just a two-point lead. Not sure if UW would have had the patience to do that last season running the motion offense.
Tonight was the second time in the past three games, Washington executed brilliantly down the stretch and won a game at the line in the final minutes. It happened last Saturday at Washington State.
This time the Huskies were tied 58-58 with 3:38 left. They outscored Stanford 7-2 the rest of the way. They made 5 of 6 free throws and converted a layup while Stanford was 1-6 on field goals.
Simmons said the Huskies never panicked near the end. And N’Diaye said UW has confidence to close out games.
“We have a lot of veterans who have been here before,” N’Diaye said. “We know how to win games.”
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
—Someone asked if this was Wilcox’s best game as a Husky. Initially I didn’t think so. He’s scored more points and he didn’t seem to dominate like he has in other games. But considering the opponent and the setting, you can make a case that the 6-5 junior guard has never been better. Wilcox tends to put up big numbers at home. He had a career high 29 points against Colorado State in a losing effort on Nov. 24 at Hec Ed. Twice he’s drained six three-pointers in a home games.
Tonight Wilcox scored 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting, including 4 of 6 on three-pointers. He did a nice job rubbing off screens for open jumpers. He also recognized defensive mismatches and used the dribble to create space for mid-range jumpers. Wilcox also had at least two putbacks, proving he’s willing to go inside and fight for points.
Add in nine rebounds, two blocks and solid defensive effort on Gabriel Harris (three points, 1-for-4 shooting). Plus Wilcox did this on the road in a three-point victory against a conference opponent. All of that equals a career-best outing in my opinion.
— N’Diaye took 10 shots and made nine. When was the last time that’s happened? I asked him about it and he seemed a little embarrassed. He was 5 of 6 from the floor and 4 of 4 at the free throw line. He credits work with assistant Brad Jackson for helping him at the foul line. Jackson is big on mental mechanics. They’ve worked a lot on developing patterns and sticking to those routines. They watch film of N’Diaye at the line. Everything he does from his approach, stance, delivery and follow-through should be identical to previous attempts.
N’Diaye also did a nice job defending a smaller player and not allowing Huestis to drive around him. It helps when your guy is missing 10 of 13 shots, many of which were open jumpers. Still, N’Diaye followed the defensive plan and executed it perfectly. His finest moment came near the end of the game when he helped Simmons stonewall Powell and forced the Stanford forward into a miss with 25 seconds left.
“I told Dez to play I would be there for him,” N’Diaye said. “We knew they would go to Powell because he had been their main guy. So when he got the ball, I knew he would do his move and spin into the lane. … When he spinned, I was there. Just being big. Make it tough for him. That time it worked.”
— Simmons, who grew up in nearby Vallejo, Calif., played a career-high 36 minutes in front of his family and friends. He didn’t disappoint. Simmons finished with 13 rebounds – five on the offensive glass – and seven points to offset four turnovers.
— Freshman backup guard Andrew Andrews certainly provides a spark off the bench. His energy is infectious. Sometimes he was out of control and made silly plays that led to turnovers. He had two. But other times, his strong dribble drives attacked Stanford’s defense leading to layups, assists or fouls. Andrews had six points and four steals in 22 minutes.
— Cold-shooting night for Abdul Gaddy (1 for 6) and Scott Suggs (3 for 10). They combined for nine points and had two assists apiece. Suggs also had two steals. Along with Wilcox they did a nice job defensively holding Stanford’s starting backcourt and wing Andy Brown to a combined 11 points.
— Shawn Kemp Jr. and Jernard Jarreau played limited minutes. Kemp airballed another layup and had two points and rebound. Jarreau’s only contribution was a foul. He didn’t play in the second half.