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Defense and rebounding are big concerns for Washington

November 23, 2013 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments
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NEW YORK – Coaches talk often about the importance of defense and rebounding in winning games and championships. It’s understandable since offense comes and goes. You have to figure Lorenzo Romar is spending more time in practice on that right now considering his team’s issues at that end of the floor that were illuminated quite clearly in the 2K Sports Classic, where Washington went 0-2 after losing 89-78 against Boston College on Friday.

The Huskies were basically spectators against Boston College on Friday, and maybe the best example of that came at the end of the first half. After a shot clock violation left just over five seconds on the clock, the Huskies let BC guard Olivier Hanlan drive the length of the floor almost untouched for a buzzer-beating layup that put the Eagles up 46-34 at the break.

Their issues on the boards showed up again as well at a key time in the game. After the under-8 media timeout, with the deficit down to nine, they gave up second-chance baskets on two straight possessions to let BC get the lead back up to 13. They had some momentum before that, and while they had not been able to break through to get closer than eight over the prior 23 minutes, those two baskets may have finished them.

Boston College out-rebounded Washington 34-27. While it was the second night in a row the Eagles out-rebounded an opponent, they haven’t exactly made a habit of doing that thus far. It was also higher than the Huskies’ average margin coming in, as opponents had been out-rebounding them by a little over four per game.

Defense, especially on the interior, and rebounding have been problems all along for the Huskies. Opponents are shooting nearly 51 percent from the floor against them on the season. In their loss to UC Irvine, they allowed the Anteaters to shoot almost 60 percent from the field, including 18-27 in the second half, and they had 20 assists and 14 turnovers.

They have defended the three-point line well prior to Friday, as opponents came in hitting just 33.3 percent from behind the arc. Thursday night, Indiana lit them up for 102 points by shooting 51.5 percent from the field, but only 3-13 from long range. The Hoosiers did their damage close to the basket, much like Boston College in the second half on Friday. But BC still shot 44 percent on three-pointers on the evening.

“We just have to get better defensively – much better,” said Romar.

It hasn’t been all bad, as Perris Blackwell has posted a couple of double-doubles of late before foul trouble slowed him a bit on Friday. But bright spots there have been hard to come by. Romar also shook up the starting lineup by going with Mike Anderson on Friday in place of Shawn Kemp, Jr. Anderson certainly gave them all he had with 10 points, eight rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in 38 minutes, and while the move to start him was primarily a function of the matchup, he’s emerging as someone who could play a bigger role for them going forward, and probably has to.

Injuries haven’t helped any, as they have taken out two key guys up front. Forward Desmond Simmons, their second-leading rebounder last season, had knee surgery in early November and is out until at least late December. Sophomore Jernard Jarreau tore an ACL in his right knee in the season opener and will miss the rest of the season.

“We’re still trying to learn this whole thing,” said guard C.J. Wilcox, who had a career-high 30 points on 11-17 shooting, including 6-7 from long range. “We’re playing a lot of new guys early since our two players went down, so a lot of guys are being thrown into the fire, so to speak. We’re just still trying to learn rotations, because if one person misses a rotation it makes the whole defense look bad. We’ve just got to work on some things, and we’ll get it right.”

The UC Irvine loss is again instructive, as in that game the Huskies were out-scored 52-28 in the paint, but one can also look at the loss to Indiana as well, with the Hoosiers dominating the glass by a 50-29 margin including 20 offensive boards.

The Huskies will have to get better at the defensive end soon, because things don’t get much easier. They go home to play Big Sky contender Montana and Long Beach State, the latter of whom will be well-tested by then. Then they go to San Diego State and later host Connecticut before Pac-12 play begins. The Pac-12 should be stronger as a whole this season, and the Huskies start with four of six away from Seattle.

Washington won’t have to worry too much about offense, although they aren’t exactly shooting the lights out. They are averaging just under 83 points per game, with their season low right now being 72 points. Romar said he feels like they have four or five players who can score in double figures on any given night, and while that is good it is a bit deceptive in that this team isn’t very deep. The other end of the floor, however, is a big concern, and Romar is eager to address it.

“I’m just anxious to get back to practice so that we can see film, see where our errors are being made and improve upon that,” said the Husky mentor.

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