One year ago, a veteran Huskies club stumbled into the Pac-12 tournament after a disastrous finish to the regular season, losing nine of their 11 conference games. The 10th seed Huskies fell to the seventh seed Stanford 71-69 after Chasson Randle knocked down a game winning three-pointer.
We all know what happened following that loss. Nigel Williams-Goss, Jernard Jarreau, Darin Johnson, Queyvn Winters and Gilles Dierickx all transferred out, while the Huskies welcomed nine new comers to the program, including seven freshmen. Now a year later, the Huskies find themselves once again matched up with the Stanford in the first round.
The Huskies only faced the Cardinal once this season and knocked them off 64-53 back on February 20th in Seattle. This was a bit of an odd game for the Huskies, Andrew Andrews failed to knock down a field goal, missing all four of his field goal attempts and finished with just eight points. Andrews had just suffered a strained MCL against California the game before, which probably explains his struggles that game. Freshman Dejounte Murray carried the Huskies to victory in the first matchup, posting 25 points on 10-14 from the field and pulled down nine rebounds as well. Interestingly, the Huskies bench failed to knock down a single field goal, Dominic Green and David Crisp combined to go 0-14 from the field and 0-11 from behind the arc. The Huskies knocked down just three of their 22 three point attempts as a team. Senior wing Roscoe Allen led the Cardinal with 20 points and nine rebounds and was the only Cardinal player to notch a double-digit outing. That it is a little less surprising considering that the Cardinal shot just 32.7 from the field and 21.4% from deep against the Huskies.
Head coach Johnny Dawkins deployed a 2-3 zone against the Huskies in the first matchup and I expect to see the same defense tomorrow. I can't help but look at the Huskies first game against the Cardinal and feel pretty optimistic about the Huskies chances tomorrow. Think about it, the Huskies shot just 13.4% from deep against the Cardinal's zone defense, Andrews scored less than 10 points (something that has happened only twice this season) and the Huskies still won by nine. To put it more simply, the Huskies played pretty poorly (at least on the offensive end) against the Cardinal in their first go, their first team All-Pac-12 player had arguably the worst game of his season and they still won. I expect the Huskies to shoot better tomorrow and for Andrews to have a much better game, and for the Huskies to separate themselves by the middle of the second half. I see the Huskies advancing to the next round in rather convincing fashion. Final score: Huskies 81 Cardinal 69
What do the Huskies need to do to make the big dance?
The Huskies are going to need to make a lot of noise in the Pac-12 tournament in order to make it back into the minds of the selection committee, at least if you go off what ESPN's Joe Lunardi or CBS's Jerry Palm say . As of today, the Huskies are neither in Lunardi's "Next Four out" group, nor Palm's "probably out" group, so that most likely means the Huskies need to make it to the Pac-12 conference championship game in order to get back on the bubble. I like to think that the Huskies would get in to the "first four" day if they beat Oregon, but it doesn't seem like that is likely at this point. Obviously, the Huskies best chance to make the tournament is to win the Pac-12 tournament and secure the automatic bid. Their path towards the championship will be tough, but for what it's worth, I think the Huskies have a relatively decent path to get there. Though they will most likely have to face league champion Oregon in the second round (assuming they beat Stanford) I still think that is a better matchup for the Huskies than Utah, who they would've had to play in the quarterfinals if they would've finished seventh. Assuming the Huskies pull the upset and knock off the Ducks, they will then have to face Arizona in the semi-finals, who probably pose the toughest matchup for the Huskies in the league.
But hey, when you are an eight seed who needs to make a deep tournament run, that almost always means beating at least one team that you don't match-up well with, on paper at least.