SEATTLE – On the heels of Wednesday night’s 81-76 victory over Oregon State – and last week’s clinching of the outright Pac-12 regular-season title – the Washington Huskies seem a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
But Washington’s deflating 76-73 defeat last week against conference cellar-dweller California reaffirms what many college basketball critics believe about the Huskies: They’re good enough to dominate a historically weak Pac-12, but fall well short of UW’s all-time great teams.
It’s an increasingly popular sentiment that will either harden or soften over the next several weeks.
Still the question remains, how good are the Huskies?
After surveying several former UW players, here’s a list, in order, of Washington’s five conference championship teams since the league adopted an 18-game schedule in 1978-79. Keep in mind there are several Husky teams that didn’t win a league title but could lay claim as being among the school’s best.
If we included all 23 of Washington’s conference champions dating back to 1911, then the 1952-53 team would certainly top the list.
Washington’s 2004-05 squad, which earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the ’05-06 squad would certainly warrant inclusion. Both teams advanced to the Sweet 16, but finished second in the league.
1. 2008-09 (26-9, 14-4)
F - Jon Brockman (14.9 pts., 11.5 rebs)
F - Darnell Gant (3.1, 3.3)
G - Quincy Pondexter (12.1, 5.9)
G - Justin Dentmon (14.4, 2.7)
G - Isaiah Thomas (15.5, 3.0)
Arguably the most talented Washington team in recent history with a roster that included three of the school’s top eight all-time leading scorers in Brockman (fourth, 1,805 points), Pondexter (fifth, 1,786) and Thomas (eighth, 1,721).
The season began with a disappointing 80-74 loss at Portland and Washington stumbled to a 2-3 start.
The Huskies needed time fix their chemistry as Dentmon and Brockman – a pair of seniors – relented control of the team to Thomas, a rising freshman star.
“Isaiah coming in was a huge focal point for people and just an amazing guy with the ball in his hands like he still is today,” Brockman said. “He can fill it up. But one of the main keys was how great Justin Dentmon’s senior season was. We had a deep bench and a really strong starting five.
“Very athletic. We had good shooters. … With our full-court pressure and guys like Justin (Holiday) and Venoy (Overton) coming off the bench and defending, that was the first time we could play the way coach (Lorenzo) Romar really wanted us to play.”
Washington swept No. 14 Arizona State and split the season series against a ranked UCLA team that included Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison.
The Huskies needed a 67-60 win over Washington State at home in the regular-season finale to clinch the outright title over the Bruins.
2. 1983-84 (24-7, 15-3)
F - Detlef Schrempf (16.8, 7.4)
F - Paul Fortier (9.1, 4.5)
C - Christian Welp (10.6, 6.2)
G - Shag Williams (6.1, 3.4)
G - Alvin Vaughn (7.6, 1.7)
Perhaps the best team during coach Marv Harshman’s 14-year tenure (1971-85) that was sparked by the arrival of a dominant freshman – Welp.
Paired with forward Schrempf, the 7-foot center formed one of the school’s most lethal tandems.
The Huskies rose to No. 13 in the national rankings and tied with Oregon State for the Pac-10 title at 15-3, which included a 13-0 home record and a thrilling 89-81 triple-overtime win over No. 20 UCLA.
“We had a super scorer in Detlef, but Christian Welp could get hot, too,” said Vaughn, a senior captain and point guard who averaged 3.4 assists. “We could score, but our thing was defense.
“We were tough-minded people and we weren’t afraid of nobody. We didn’t mind rolling up our sleeves and getting after people. We believed in defense, which is similar to this year’s team. But we didn’t play the zone.”
The Huskies allowed an average of 58.7 points, which ranked among the conference leaders in an era that didn’t include the 3-point shot.
Only four UW opponents scored more than 70 points.
In the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies beat a Duke team that included Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker and Jay Bilas to advance to the Sweet 16, where they lost to Dayton.
“I love this Husky team,” Vaughn said. “I love how they play defense and lately they’re learning to freelance a bit more to trap and things like that.
“These dudes are more athletic and longer than we were, but we had that neutralizer – a big man in Det who can shoot, pass and score in the middle. I love these young guys, but they don’t have anybody that could handle or hang with Det.”
3. 1984-85 (22-10, 13-5)
F - Detlef Schrempf (15.8, 8.0)
F - Paul Fortier (13.2, 6.4)
C - Christian Welp (13.0, 7.0)
G - Shag Williams (5.2, 2.8)
G - Clay Damon (8.9, 1.9)
Statistically, the Huskies were nearly identical to the previous season, but they won two fewer games in the Pac-10 and tied with USC for the conference championship.
Washington was ranked seventh at midseason but didn’t appear in the polls in the final 10 weeks of the season. Harshman retired after UW lost to Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The loss of Vaughn to graduation forced Schrempf to move into a hybrid point-forward position who ran the offense.
“It was a little tougher because we started two shooting guards (Damon and Williams). They were great, but we didn’t have a playmaker,” said Schrempf, who led UW in points (15.8), rebounds (8.0) and assists (4.2). “Our two point guards were freshmen and we struggled against teams that had really good guards and were penetrators.
“Still, we were good enough to win a lot of games.”
Welp, who averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds, began ascending to the top spot on UW’s all-time scoring list.
Washington’s imposing front line also included forward Paul Fortier, who averaged 13.2 points and 6.4 rebounds.
“With us, we dominated the paint, which back then, everyone wanted to get to the basket and score,” Schrempf said. “It’s a totally different way to play and defend. Back then, we dared people to shoot outside. Nowadays you want to take the shooters away and try to make them go in and hit a tough two.”
A fantasy matchup between UW’s 1984-85 team and the current Huskies would likely be determined by Schrempf.
“It would be interesting because of the different styles,” he said. “We would struggle with their quickness up front, especially my senior year because I played point forward. But at the same time, they would have a really hard time with our three bigs that could catch, pass and shoot. They would have a tough time with the size.”
4. 2018-19 (22-6, 13-2)
G - David Crisp (11.3, 2.9)
G - Jaylen Nowell (16.7, 5.2)
G - Matisse Thybulle (9.3, 2.9)
F - Noah Dickerson (13.9, 6.7)
F - Hameir Wright (3.0, 3.1)
Washington has a chance to finish with a school record for conference wins and will likely claim the league’s top three postseason awards for MVP, defensive MVP and coach of the year.
But Thursday’s clunker at Cal adds a new level of scrutiny on what the Huskies have accomplished this season and heightens the uncertainty about what lies ahead.
Washington could just easily finish 3-0 or 0-3 this season.
The Huskies have the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, but calling them the favorite seems like a bit of a stretch after falling to a team that had a 16-game losing streak.
“These guys are fourth in my mind right now with an opportunity to do something special and shock the world,” UW radio analyst Jason Hamilton said. “They can change their narrative by finishing (16-2), maybe adding a Pac-12 Tournament championship and then going to the NCAA Tournament and doing some damage there.
“There’s a lot of their story that’s yet to be written.”
5. 2011-12 (24-11, 14-4)
F - Darnell Gant (7.2, 5.4)
C - Aziz N’Diaye (7.8, 7.3)
G - Abdul Gaddy (8.1, 2.6)
G - Terrence Ross (16.4, 6.4)
G - Tony Wroten (16.0, 5.0)
This Washington team became the only Power 5 conference regular-season conference champion that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
Led by Ross, Wroten and C. J. Wilcox, this Husky squad was loaded in the backcourt.
However, a lack of signature wins and a down year in the conference – does that sound familiar? – kept the Huskies out of the Big Dance.
Washington played against just two ranked teams (Duke and Marquette) and lost both games at New York’s Madison Square Garden. UW also had an embarrassing 92-73 defeat at home to South Dakota State.
Washington found its stride at midseason while winning 10 of 11 games.
The Huskies ended the regular season with a loss and backed into the outright Pac-10 title due to defeats by California and Oregon, who finished second in the league race at 13-5.
A first-round defeat to Oregon State in the Pac-10 Tournament torpedoed Washington’s hopes for a NCAA Tournament at-large berth.
The Huskies advanced to the NIT title game and lost 68-67 in overtime to Minnesota.
After the season, Ross and Wroten left early for the NBA Draft and were taken in the first round.
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