Jan. 18, 2013
|UTAH AT WASHINGTON
Saturday, Jan. 19 | 8:00 pm (PT) | Alaska Airlines Arena
Live Stats | TV: ESPNU/ESPN3/Spanish | Radio: KJR 950 AM & 102.9 FM (Affiliates)
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -The Huskies' lock-down, drag-out defense is all the rage right now.
On the eve of Washington (12-5, 4-0 Pac-12) hosting Utah (8-9, 0-5) Saturday night with a chance to go 5-0 in the league for the first time in 29 years, coach Lorenzo Romar, rugged forward Desmond Simmons and redshirt freshman guard Andrew Andrews talked for a combined half hour. About 26 of those minutes were spent answering questions about defense.
That's what happens when you hold four consecutive opponents under 40-percent shooting, lead the Pac-12 in allowing just 56 points per game and 18.9-percent 3-point shooting, and are second in field-goal percentage defense at 37.4 percent.
Overall through 17 games UW is allowing 64.9 points per game. If that pace continues into March, it would be the Huskies' best defensive mark since the 1985 team averaged 58.8 points per game against it.
Yet Romar isn't surprised by any of what his tenacious, turned-around team is doing right now.
In fact, he expects it. Demands it, even.
"He asks us to do a lot on defense," Simmons said at Alaska Airlines Arena before a lighter, day-before-game practice.
It's simple with Romar. You play defense. Or you don't play.
Chances are when a Husky suddenly exits a game and you see Romar talking to him at the bench, it's because of a lapse on defense.
In Tony Wroten's final game as a Husky last March in New York, against Minnesota in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals, countless Gophers blew by him throughout the first half. Even though it became Wroten's final game before the Memphis Grizzlies selected him 25th overall in the NBA draft, Romar benched his freshman guard for a noticeably long stretch before and after halftime.
"I think there's some pride here. I think the culture here, the way we go about things, eventually someone wants to be one of those guys that they want to defend," Romar said Friday.
C.J. Wilcox is "one of those guys." The sharpshooter, the Pac-12 leader averaging 22.3 points per conference game and the league's latest player of the week, assessed a few days ago how much of a defender he was while he was lighting up opposing Utah high schools out of Pleasant Grove outside Salt Lake City.
"I didn't play defense in high school," he said, smiling. "I was just worried about putting the ball in the net."
Not now. The 6-5 guard and 7-foot center Aziz N'Diaye are neck and neck in the race to lead Washington in blocked shots, and Wilcox is now renowned as one of the better defensive guards in the conference.
That, as much as his usual scoring and sweet stroke, is why the junior is getting the attention of NBA scouts. It also is why one of the only non-defense questions Romar got Friday was whether he has talked to Wilcox about the possibility he would enter the NBA draft as an underclassman this summer.
"We talked before the season," Romar said. "And there was no indication where he was saying, `Oh, I'm leaving.' Or, `I'm not leaving.' He's playing the year out."
The fact Wilcox even has the option is not because he is lighting up opponents with his ultra-smooth jump shot or his increasingly effective slashes and curls into the lane off high-post screens.
It's because of he's bought into playing Huskies' defense - like those immediately before him who say the real way into the NBA.
"It's something now: when the Grizzlies need a stop, they put Quincy on the guy; the (Toronto) Raptors talk to us and tell us how pleased they are with Terrence defensively; Rick Adelman, when he was (the Sacramento Kings' coach) Isaiah's rookie year he tells them, `I don't want anybody else to guard Kobe Bryant than Isaiah,' and Isaiah is guarding Kobe.
"We just laugh at that, because we remember how they were when they came here. But we've had some determined guys. We've had some guys with some pride that want to be well-rounded basketball players. They've bought into the culture here and ended up improving.
"And C.J. is no exception."
As Romar, a former NBA guard, says of "The League": "If you can score, that gets you in the door. It's, `Can he play defense?'"
Wilcox, N'Diaye, Simmons, senior co-captains Abdul Gaddy and Scott Suggs, plus their Huskies teammates will need to continue that selfless, hard-nosed play Saturday night. Utah -- with 6-10 center Jason Washburn, 7-foot reserve Dallin Bachynski and starting guards Jarred DuBois at Cedric Martin at 6-3 and 6-4, respectively -- is allowing 5.5 fewer points per game than heralded UW is. The Utes rank ninth nationally in opponents' field-goal percentage at 36.5 percent.
With Wilcox, Suggs and Gaddy herding Buffaloes on the perimeter, Simmons dogging opponents down low and N'Diaye challenging drives into the lane, Washington held Colorado to 36.2 percent shooting and just 1-for-10 accuracy from 3-point range in its 64-54 home win Wednesday. That has UW 4-0 in the league for just the fourth time in 35 years.
"Utah will be just as physical as Colorado was," Romar said. "They have good size and they always play so hard."
Romar has already talked to the Huskies about how Utah lost in overtime at Arizona State (14-3) in a game ASU saved with a shot late in regulation. The Utes have also lost by 3 at Arizona (15-1), and by four at home last week to a UCLA team (15-3) that has won 10 straight.
Romar has also talked to the Huskies about how, despite Saturday night's chance go 5-0 in the league for the first time since 1984's team began 6-0, it's still waaaay early.
"It's tells us we are off to a good start - but nothing more than that," Romar said.
"Victories in January help build your resume (for the NCAA tournament). But it doesn't do anything more than that."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Romar and his staff will be wearing sneakers with their suits on the bench Saturday night. It is a home preview of the annual Suits and Sneakers weekend college coaches will have Jan. 25-27 to support Coaches versus Cancer, the collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Folks from the American Cancer Society will be in the arena concourses handing out cancer awareness messages, including through 10,000 "Dawg Strong" bracelets. The Huskies wanted a chance to show off the commemorative kicks and raise cancer awareness at Alaska Airlines Arena, since the last few national Coaches versus Cancer weekends have fallen on dates the Huskies played on the road - including next weekend when UW plays at Oregon. Since Coaches versus Cancer's inception in 1993, high school and college coaches and their wives across the country have raised more than $85 million with the American Cancer Society towards cancer awareness. ... Wilcox is coming off a 25-point night against Colorado. He has scored 20 or more in each of the last eight home games and is averaging 21.9 points per game at Alaska Airlines Arena. ... Utah, which joined the Pac-12 last year, has played at Washington once since 1990. That was an 83-77 non-conference win by the Huskies on Nov. 14, 2007, in a NIT Season Tip-off tournament regional.