LAS VEGAS — Washington last won the Pac-12 regular-season title seven years ago. The Huskies are hoping to avoid a repeat in history.
Not the title. What happened after.
Appearing to be in good shape for an NCAA Tournament berth after winning the Pac-12, Washington was left out of the bracket in 2012 after losing to Oregon State in its opening game of the conference tournament.
With that kind of history, the Huskies want to leave no doubt at this year’s Pac-12 Tournament, which starts Wednesday in Las Vegas.
“We’re at our best when we have a little chip on our shoulder and it’s going to be fun to go down there and play good basketball,” Huskies coach Mike Hopkins said.
Washington all but clinched the Pac-12 regular-season title by the midpoint of the conference season. The Huskies (24-7) matched a school record with 15 conference wins and will be the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament at T-Mobile Arena.
Washington is not exactly going into the tournament on a roll.
The Huskies lost to last-place California, which had not won a Pac-12 game prior to the Feb. 28 game, and closed out the season by scoring just 47 points in a loss to Oregon.
“I don’t think we’re playing our best basketball at the end of the year,” Hopkins said. “We played it in a stretch in the middle when we were elite. That’s the ebbs and flows. You’re not going to play great every game, but you find ways to win and this team has. The last four games reminded me of what we were in the nonconference where we put together halves. We didn’t put together wholes, but we’ve shown we have the whole.”
The Huskies can make it a whole lot easier on themselves by making a deep run in the conference tournament, starting with Thursday’s game against Arizona or Southern California.
A few more things to look for when the Pac-12 Tournament starts:
Washington is not the only team looking to improve its NCAA Tournament standing.
Arizona State appears to be in good shape with wins over Kansas and Mississippi State on its resume. The Sun Devils have some ugly losses, including at home to Princeton and Washington State.
Arizona State solidified its NCAA Tournament case with a convincing road win over rival Arizona despite playing without starting forward Taeshon Cherry due to a concussion.
The second-seeded Sun Devils could make Selection Sunday much easier by winning the Pac-12 Tournament or at least making a deep run.
“I know that we’ve done enough,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said after the Arizona victory. “You can’t really ask for more.”
The Sun Devils are hoping to have Cherry back for Thursday’s game against the winner between Stanford and UCLA.
Utah locked up the No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament by beating USC and UCLA during the final weekend of the regular season.
The Utes have a potentially difficult tournament opener if No. 6 seed Oregon gets past No. 11 Washington State in its opener.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak is 2-14 against Oregon coach Dana Altman and the Ducks have knocked the Utes out of the Pac-12 Tournament four times.
Oregon closed the regular season with four straight wins, including on the road against Pac-12 champion Washington.
More so than in years past, the Pac-12 Tournament could be a wild ride this time around.
The conference went into the final weekend of the regular season with eight seeds and two first-round byes left to be decided.
Washington dominated the league early and faltered late, lost to the last-place team.
Oregon was the preseason favorite, yet opened conference play 2-4. Arizona State beat Washington, lost to Washington State. Cal closed out the regular season with three straight wins after opening 0-15.
Washington is the favorite at 5-2, but 10 teams are 25-1 or less, so expect almost anything to happen.