Dec. 15, 2010
|UW-San Francisco Game Coverage|
|TV: FSN-NW||Radio: Washington ISP Sports Network (950 AM-Seattle)|
UW-San Francisco set for 7:00 p.m. tip on Saturday
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Get ready for more of Huskies' basketball. Seven feet more, to be exact.
Washington is on the rebound - literally. That means fans will be seeing more of imposing 7-foot center Aziz N'Diaye and his ability to dominate inside for Washington (6-3), starting Saturday night at home against San Francisco (4-5).
Coach Lorenzo Romar made that clear Wednesday following a practice that focused on rebounding and better offensive execution.
He said it three times in about 15 minutes, in fact.
"Aziz is going to get more minutes because he has shown he can rebound," Romar said four days after the Huskies were outrebounded 39-33 in a one-point loss at Texas A&M. "We need to play Aziz more."
N'Diaye, a sophomore junior-college transfer from College of Southern Idaho and Senegal, played just 13 minutes of Saturday's 63-62 defeat. He has started the last four games but has averaged just 12.5 minutes in those starts, as most games have tended to be played at UW's favorite, faster pace with smaller combinations on the floor.
Romar said N'Diaye could be paired more with 6-9 senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning to add size and rebounding to the go-go Huskies.
N'Diaye had reconstructive knee surgery and missed all of last season in junior college, and he has recently been limited by his other knee being sore. But Romar believes the Huskies' medical staff is successfully managing N'Diaye's knees now. So the coach is envisioning upping playing time to about 20 minutes per night for the man who entered the starting lineup after he dominated Kentucky inside in the Maui Invitational late last month.
N'Diaye has 55 rebounds in 138 minutes this season. Sure, it's a far smaller sample size, but that average of one board every 2½ minutes is better than what Jon Brockman did while becoming UW's all-time rebounding leader. The current Milwaukee Buck averaged one rebound every 2.9 minutes in his Huskies' career that ended in 2009.
Romar allowed those numbers to marinate for a minute, then deadpanned: "So Aziz probably needs to play more."
He isn't the only Husky rebounding more these days.
"We have to run at the end of practice if we miss box outs now," said Justin Holiday, the team's leading rebounder at 6.2 per game.
Holiday's foul trouble Saturday didn't help Washington's rebounding effort Saturday at Texas A&M. He eventually fouled out after playing just 15 minutes.
The senior co-captain's rebounding average is just ahead of N'Diaye's 6.1 per game, though even he said he was guilty of not boxing Aggies out Saturday.
He can't believe the team isn't rebounding consistently - especially given how much Romar drills it, emphasizes it, rewards for it and punishes for not doing it.
"Yeah, it's crazy," said Holiday said. "Because he does. And we don't."
Still, it's not as if the Huskies are completely Dawgging it on the boards. Their average rebounding margin of plus-3.7 per game was fifth-best in the Pac-10 and 101st among 336 teams in Division I basketball entering this week.
But a majority of that average has come against overmatched teams inside Hec Edmundson Pavilion, where UW is 5-0 and is averaging 104 points per game.
When tight games have been on the line away from home, the other guys have been grabbing the key missed shots.
When the Huskies lost narrowly in the Maui Invitational to then No. 8 Kentucky last month, the Wildcats out-rebounded UW 49-39, many of them killer offensive boards in the second half. The next day, in a five-point loss to then-second ranked Michigan State, Washington lost the rebounding battle 31-27.
The other issue Romar is addressing is offensive execution, especially late in games, which he says "is on me."
Yet his players see how they can fix that.
"We can score in the halfcourt. The reason why we don't is because we aren't moving the ball," Holiday said. "We weren't patient at all (at A&M).
"That's our problem. We think we can run all the time when we can't."
So for the first time this week in practice, the Huskies have emphasized turning off their signature, man-to-man, pressure defense in the open floor during scrimmaging. For 10 minutes every day they are going against their nature and specifically packing defenders inside, like opponents usually do to them. That's aside from the scout-team looks they are getting to prepare for each game.
The offense, in turn, is working on swinging the ball from side to side with more passes against the new practice look.
"In practice now we are working on running all 35 seconds (off the shot clock)," Holiday said.
All of these are what Romar sees as tweaks to iron out in the final two nonconference games -- Saturday's, and Dec. 22 at home against Nevada - before Pac-10 play begins Dec. 29 at USC.
Leading scorer Isaiah Thomas (15.3 points per game) says he knows the three losses on national television have hurt the Huskies' national reputation. Yet they feel better equipped this season with a more versatile and veteran team to avoid a seemingly habitual, early-winter funk.
It briefly derailed last season, before those Huskies got it right in time to win the Pac-10 tournament and reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAAs. In 2008 and again in `07, UW lost its first three conference games and really never recovered.
"More than any of those other years, I feel like this is more within reach to fix," Romar said.
Thomas isn't alarmed, either.
"It's only December. We're not even in the Pac-10 season yet," the junior guard said. "We're not as good as I thought we were going to be, but my first three years here, I swear, it's been that way. We start out slow then mature and get rolling.
"We're learning. ... As long as we're in the NCAA Tournament in March, I'm good."