If you ask guard Jaylen Nowell about Washington’s improved ball movement during the first three games of the Pac-12 season, he’ll point you toward the numbers.
There’s a good reason for that: In a word, proof.
In 13 non-conference games, the Huskies (12-4, 3-0 Pac-12) averaged 11.4 assists and 13.3 turnovers per game. But during their 3-0 start to Pac-12 play, they are averaging more assists (14.0) than turnovers (11.7)
UW had 17 assists and 11 turnovers in its conference-opening victory against Washington State. The Huskies then passed the ball as well as they have all season against Utah, finishing with 16 assists and just eight turnovers.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“It’s all about us watching film and correcting things that we’ve done and passing up good shots for great shots,” Nowell said. “Really, that’s one of the things that we had trouble with starting this year. It was just a matter of us watching film and actually seeing it rather than just talking about it.”
The idea of sacrificing a good shot for a great shot was repeated Wednesday not only by UW point guard David Crisp, but also head coach Mike Hopkins.
Crisp said it’s a concept UW continually works on in practice. The fast start in the conference season has been partially fueled by the Huskies successfully transferring that idea to games.
“A lot of times in the games we just had, these past three games, guys could’ve taken a good shot and nobody would’ve even questioned it,” Crisp said. “They passed it up to get even better shots from somebody who is wide open.
“Just having that mentality has really helped us the first three games in conference and we just keep practicing that everyday in practice and hoping it translates.”
The assist-to-turnover ratio did drop off in UW’s win over Colorado. The Huskies had seven assists and five turnovers in the first half. They ended that game with nine assists and 16 turnovers.
That step back showed Hopkins where UW still needs to improve.
“We have times when guys are giving the ball away and that was one of our problems last year,” Hopkins said. “We got to do a better job of that. I thought we had some outlet passes in the Colorado games, dribbles off our leg, that were self-inflicted wounds that we’ve got to get better at.”
Late in the non-conference season, UW was struggling from the field. At the time, Hopkins said they were getting good shots but they just weren’t falling. Those attempts have been more successful lately, Crisp said, but the Huskies are also working for even better opportunities.
He pointed to a moment in the Utah game when he came off a pick-and-roll and passed to Hameir Wright, who could’ve attempted a layup. Instead, Wright kicked the ball to Dominic Green for a wide open 3-pointer.
That, Crisp said, is exactly the move the Huskies are looking for. It’s a trend they hope to continue at home against Stanford (8-8, 1-3) on Thursday.
“Getting shots like that is what’s really helped us because it’s contagious,” he said. “Moving the ball around, making the extra pass, everybody wants to join in on it.”
Said Nowell: “There’s been a lot of shots that we’re trying to shoot where it’s, ‘That’s a good shot, you made it, just be sure that you see this other guy as well.’ We have a lot of those situations in games. It’s just a matter of the decision-making.”
For Nowell, UW’s leading scorer, sometimes that means passing up a shot for himself.
But he doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s just more about getting the great shot,” he said. “Most of the time, the shot over two guys isn’t the great shot. There’s somebody else open.”