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Down year for Pac-12 basketball? Forget it — these Huskies are legit

Say what you want about the state of the Pac-12, but Washington beat Cal 71-52 to extend its winning streak to seven. The victory marks the first time UW has started Pac-12 play 5-0 since 1984. Just two years ago, UW finished 9-22 and 2-16 in conference.

If you wanted to, you could say that they’re doing it in the Pac-12, which is as down as it has been in years.

And if that didn’t sufficiently lower the mood, you could point out that the wins have come against the worst teams in the conference.

And if you’re just looking to irritate, you could mention that, four years ago, Washington won eleven in a row before dropping 15 of their next 20.

But I wouldn’t care. My eyes tell me these Huskies are legit.

Saturday, Washington beat Cal 71-52 to extend its winning streak to seven. The victory marks the first time UW has started Pac-12 play 5-0 since 1984.

At 14-4 overall, the Huskies are luring near-capacity crowds to Hec Ed (there were 9,225 fans in the 10,000-seat arena Saturday). And they’re giving those crowds everything they want.

Except suspense.

Saturday marked the fifth time in seven games UW has won by double digits. Its closest contest over that stretch was a seven-point win over Colorado, where it led by as many as 15. The average margin of victory during this win streak is 14, and that’s despite the Huskies missing 13 of their first 14 shots Saturday.

That would be impressive for just about any team in the country, but it’s remarkable when you consider Washington is just two seasons removed from going 9-22 and 2-16 in conference. Cause for celebration, right?

Well, depends on who you ask.

“With our record, we’re going to be getting everyone’s best shot,” said Matisse Thybulle, who finished with 13 points and a game-high five blocks. “It means that we gotta play even better.”

This is true. The Huskies aren’t going to benefit from any first-half lethargy, as Cal did Saturday. It’s hard not to think that the Golden Bears’ record (5-12, 0-5 before the game) didn’t factor into Washington’s atrocious start.

But that was much more exception than it was rule for UW, which is inching closer to The Associated Press Top 25 with every trip to the hardwood. These guys can play.

This was the team that Gonzaga needed a buzzer-beater to beat in Spokane last month. This is the team that dismantled Utah in Salt Lake City, which is one of the harder places to win the in the conference. This is the team that entered the game with the third lowest opponent field-goal percentage in the Pac-12 (.400) and may now have the lowest after holding Cal to 18-for-59 shooting.

The pieces are in place. The Huskies have a playmaker in Jaylen Nowell, who leads the team in points and assists. They have a defensive superstar in Thybulle, who entered Saturday first in the Pac-12 in steals per game and second in blocks.

They have an all-conference big man in Noah Dickerson, who drew 13 fouls on Saturday. And they have increasingly reliable shooters in David Crisp and Dominic Green, who combined for seven three-pointers.

Is this a team dripping with future first-round draft picks reminiscent of the Lorenzo Romar days? No. Is this as complete a team we’ve seen on Montlake in a looong time? Yes.

Of course, Pac-12 narratives can change with one bad weekend. Oregon and Oregon State are two of the better teams in the conference, and road wins can be elusive.

That’s why second-year coach Mike Hopkins is making sure his players don’t get too high on themselves.

“At the end of the day, we got Oregon and Oregon State. That’s what the program should be concerned about,” Hopkins said. “Just going out and trying to prepare, and trying to execute and to fight that human nature so that we have a chance.”

It’s possible the Huskies return from the Beaver State with no more wins than they have now. But regardless of who they’re playing, they always have a chance.

Nobody can say that Seattle is without a winter sport right now. The Huskies have made that clear, and they’ll likely keep doing so.

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