STANFORD, Calif. – Washington lost more than a basketball game Thursday night.
The Huskies lost point guard Quade Green, who was ruled academically ineligible by the school and will miss the remainder of the regular season and the Pacific-12 Conference Tournament.
The stunning news preceded a deflating 61-55 setback against Stanford, during which UW led by 12 points midway through the second half.
The loss dropped Washington (11-5, 1-2 Pac-12) into a three-way tie at the bottom of the conference standings.
But losing Green jeopardizes UW’s postseason hopes.
Next man up
It gets said far too often in sports, but coaches often simplify the loss of players by referring to the “next man up” cliché.
It’s cold and dispassionate, but it’s also an accurate assessment of the Huskies, who turn to Elijah Hardy.
Ready or not, the sophomore point guard is tasked with running an imperfect offense that commits too many turnovers and struggles shooting 3-pointers.
Both problems were on display Thursday when UW finished with a season-high-tying 21 turnovers while connecting on just 3 of 17 shots behind the arc (17.6%).
And none of that would have mattered if the Huskies had performed reasonably well at the free-throw line, where they made 12 of 25 shots.
Of course, Hardy can’t fix all those problems.
But UW’s offensive efficiency falls under his purview as the point guard, especially when he played 31 minutes.
And the Huskies were out of sync for much of the night and especially so in the final 8 minutes when they were outscored 26-8.
No one expects Hardy to match Green’s production (11.6 points, 5.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 51.5% field-goal shooting and 44.7% 3-point shooting), but he can’t be a detriment either.
Hardy finished with two points, three assists, three steals and three turnovers while shooting 1 for 7 from the field and 0 for 4 on 3-pointers.
He wasn’t the reason the Huskies lost, but they’ll need more from him to win games.
Stanford’s defensive tactic was no different than previous Husky opponents as the Cardinal sent waves of double teams in the post at Isaiah Stewart.
But for the first time this season, UW’s star freshman forward was unable to fight through the extra defenders and finished with a career-low four points on 2-for-8 shooting.
He also had five rebounds – his fewest in the past 10 games – and three blocks to offset three turnovers in 26 minutes and 27 seconds. It was Stewart’s second-shortest outing this season.
You have to think future UW opponents will attempt to employ a similar defensive game plan, but again, Stanford didn’t necessarily do anything out of the ordinary.
It seemed as if Stewart simply had a rare off night.
After scoring at least 14 points in every game this season, he was due for a clunker and it might not have been a coincidence that it happened during UW’s first game without Green.
Green is a deadly 3-point shooter who stretches defenses and creates space inside for Stewart.
Teams are going to sag off Hardy, who has made just 1 of 14 3-pointers, until he proves he can make an outside shot.
Still, it was strange seeing Stewart silenced by a relatively small Stanford front line.
Are the Huskies done?
For the second time in as many weeks, Washington lost a close game due in part to late defensive gaffes against a seemingly inferior opponent.
It happened against UCLA when backup freshman guard Jake Kyman torched the Huskies with 21 points and seven 3-pointers, including the winner.
And it happened again Thursday when Stanford made 8 of 16 3-pointers in the second half, including the tying and go-ahead 3s.
Now it’s certainly debatable whether Stanford (13-2, 2-0) is inferior to Washington, especially considering the Cardinal are first in the league standings and Huskies sit at the bottom.
Still, UW controlled the game for more than 31 minutes and seemingly had advantages at several positions.
And yet for the second time in as many weeks, the defending Pac-12 regular-season champions desperately need a win to remain relevant in the conference title chase.
A loss at California (7-8, 1-1) on Saturday would be catastrophic for Washington, which was eyeing its first road sweep.
Coach Mike Hopkins needs to devise new ways to incorporate Stewart into the offense because he’ll surely receive double teams for the remainder of his UW career.
Hopkins will continue preaching ball security, but he has no choice but to lean heavily on Jaden McDaniels (18 points and 15 rebounds) and Nahziah Carter (16 points) on nights when they combine for seven turnovers.
And Hopkins has to continue tweaking a 2-3 zone defense that has allowed at least 10 3-pointers in both conference losses.
But for the first time during Hopkins’ three-year tenure, the Huskies are faced with the type of adversity that can derail a season.
At full strength Washington was trending just below the Pac-12’s top teams – Oregon, Colorado and Arizona.
Without Green, UW’s margin for error shrinks significantly.
And it’s not hyperbole to suggest that Hopkins’ handling of the point-guard situation will likely determine if Washington makes a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
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