Washington head coach Mike Hopkins saw last week’s exhibition against Nevada as an opportunity.
It provided the Huskies younger plays a chance to go on the road, see how the team operates during an away game. More importantly, it allowed the men’s basketball coaching staff to see how No. 25 UW stacked up against the No. 7-ranked team in the country.
As it turns out, UW stacked up just fine.
The Huskies defeated the Wolf Pack 91-73 even without Noah Dickerson, who missed the game with an injury. Hopkins said Dickerson will be back for UW’s second exhibition game against Division II Seattle Pacific at Alaska Airlines Arena on Thursday.
“It was a high-level game so it was great for us to see what a top team looks like, feels like, plays like,” Hopkins said. “For the young guys, I was only able to get a couple of them in, but it was a great experience for them to see it and see what the level is they have to be at to help us.”
Hopkins was particularly impressed with the poise his team showed against Nevada’s aggressive defense and press.
Now, UW is gearing up for its final tune-up before the start of the season. Hopkins used the performance against Nevada to zero in on two areas that need improvement: Rebounding and assists.
That’s not a surprise. He said the same thing at UW’s media day before the first exhibition game of the season. The Wolf Pack out rebounded UW 37-34, including 23-11 on the offensive boards.
Hopkins said those numbers were affected by the Huskies’ foul trouble.
“We had to go smaller,” he said. “We battled. So the things that we’ve been working on we didn’t do great, but we did better. We had 19 assists. I thought that was important.
“We talk about the one more. The two areas were defensive rebounding and making the extra pass. It wasn’t great, but it was a lot better than than it had been. So we were happy about that.”
Last season, the Huskies ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding, 12th in defensive rebounding percentage and 11th in assists. For Hopkins, the goal isn’t to move the bottom of the conference to the top. It’s just to make progress.
“If we can get to sixth, that’s now really boosted what we’ve been doing,” he said. “We’ve been running better. If we can defensive rebound, it keeps other teams off the glass. If you can run on them, it forces them to think, ‘Should we go to the offensive glass?’
“And so there’s also a trick to that. We’ve been working on really getting out in transition more and taking advantage when we do defensive rebound so we can score easily on the other end.”
Making the extra pass, Hopkins said, is something the Huskies work on everyday. But improving the assist numbers will take more than skill. It will also require trust, and that takes time to build.
“I think sometimes guys that can really score, he thinks, ‘I’m going to go make the basket because I don’t know if he can make it. I want to go win,’” Hopkins said. “When you start to do that, sometimes that becomes the mindset. I’ve got to be able to trust everyone around me.”
While Hopkins will be watching the rebounding and passing progress closely on Thursday, his main objective for the second and final exhibition is simple: Win.
It’s the same objective he has for any game, whether it counts toward the Huskies’ record or not. At the same time, exhibition games are a chance to give players experience and test different lineups. He plans to do both.
“You want to be able to execute and play well,” Hopkins said. “Focus in on playing well and not focusing on the score is how we plan to play every game.”