Stress Relief: Defense Leads UW To 74-51 Romp
Dec. 22, 2011
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Apparently, it took an embarrassing home loss by 19 points to South Dakota State for these young Huskies to commit to a truly, totally, OK-we're-REALLY-serious-now buy-in on what coach Lorenzo Romar has been preaching since October.
Defense matters most.
"Tonight we made it clear that we have to play defense to win," sophomore scorer Terrence Ross said after Washington jumped all over out-gunned Cal State Northridge by scoring 16 of the first 18 points Thursday night in a 74-51 victory Thursday night at Alaska Airlines Arena.
But these were the more rewarding -- and potentially more telling - numbers for the Huskies (6-5) in their final nonconference game before the Pac-12 opener against Oregon State on Dec. 29:
They forced their season high in turnovers, 22. They held inept Northridge (3-7) to 24-percent shooting overall. And they allowed just 19 points in the first half.
Two days after Romar explained how 26 deflections on defense are the key to any victory -- and four days after they had just 19 deflections in that admittedly inexcusable effort against South Dakota State -- the Huskies had 19 deflections against Northridge. In the first half.
They ended up with 39 for the game.
"That's always a good indicator," Romar said after this one, smiling and pointing his finger for emphasis.
The Huskies have won each game this season in which they have deflected the ball at least 26 times. Anytime they haven't gotten 26 pass breakups on defense, they have lost - including the season-low 18 UW had in woeful blowout loss at Saint Louis last month.
Romar sees deflections as representative of the largest issues that will ultimately define this Huskies season: Overall intensity; and playing the brand of in-your-shirt defense that has sent Washington to the NCAA tournament six times in the previous nine seasons, with three appearances in the Sweet 16.
"We made progress in areas we were wanting to make progress in," Romar said after this one.
His somewhat pleased tone was a marked contrast to Sunday, when he kept referring to that home effort as "unacceptable."
Washington's 38-19 lead at the break represented the fewest points it has allowed in any half this season. The Matadors didn't make their first field goal until 5:58 into the game.
The Huskies were far more aggressive fighting through screens, staying in front of dribblers and jumping out on shooters on defense than they'd been in weeks. Northridge, trying everything from high pick-and-roll plays to drives and kick-outs and on-ball screens, missed 21 of its 25 shots in the first half.
It was partly Northridge's ineptitude, and mostly Washington's revival on defense.
"The first 15 minutes we played exceptionally well," Romar said.
"We were keeping the ball in front of us. When they did get to the rim, I thought our rotations (defensively to the ball) were on point. And we were boxing out and rebounding."
Washington finished with a 44-30 edge in rebounds, led by eight each from Darnell Gant, Ross and Simmons.
Will this effort suffice inside the unpredictable Pac-12?
"There were several minutes where that effort would be fine against any competition," Romar said.
The flashy freshman Wroten provided the night's highlight-reel plays on offense, as usual.
His no-look pass under the rim to N'Diaye put UW up 22-6 with 12:42 left in the first half. But the best of his five assists - against six turnovers -- came on a second-half breakaway. Wroten bounced a behind-the-back pass to trailing big man Shawn Kemp Jr., who soared down the lane and slammed it down with his right arm extended. That put the Huskies up 69-34.
That equaled their largest lead of this mismatch, one that relieved some stress from UW losing five of its previous seven games.
Now that's a margin for error, eh?
Thing is, coaches have made it clear to the Huskies they no longer have one. Actually, they made that clear in intense, pointed practices Monday through Wednesday.
"Make a mistake and you are running," is how Ross described the buck-up drills.
Then before Thursday's tipoff, Romar and his staff again reminded their Huskies they have no more margin for error, that the time to execute consistently was upon them if they wanted to be playing deep into March.
"We ended on a great note," Wroten said of the up-and-down non-conference season in which UW lost its most games before January since losing six to end the 2001 calendar year. "Losing to South Dakota State, we came back this game and played as a team, played great defense.
"It's go-time now. We play a good Oregon State team, but I think we are ready.
"And we are dedicated."
That final point may prove to be the most important one the Huskies have made all season.
QUICK SHOTS: N'Diaye, whom Romar has called UW's most indispensible player, played 16 minutes in his first action since he sprained his knee midway through the 86-80 loss to Duke in New York on Dec. 10. The Pac-12's leading shot blocker and second-leading rebounder looked fluid moving his feet on defense, often staying with guards on Northridge's many screens at the foul line. Was it coincidence that the return of their enforcer came on the same night the Huskies were so good defensively? "It just makes it easier on us, when in the slight chance we do get beat on defense he is down there for us," Wroten said of his 7-foot center. N'Diaye admitted to a bit of rust. "By next game, I'll be (fully) ready," he said. ... Wroten on the lessons he learned from his first non-conference season in college: "Not to take anyone lightly ... or we lose." ... Ross had 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting in the opening half. That was seven more shots than he had in 23 minutes Sunday, fulfilling Romar's desire for him to get more looks.