Coach Romar's `Hammer' Has Put UW On The Defensive
Jan. 4, 2012
TV: ROOT Sports (6 p.m. PT)
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Lorenzo Romar often uses steady patience to instill his signature defensive principles in the Huskies.
Other times, he uses a hammer to ram them home.
This uneven season has been one of those "other" times.
"He knew he had to hammer it in us because we have a younger team. We didn't really understand," junior point guard Abdul Gaddy said on the eve of Washington (8-5, 2-0 Pac-12) heading to Boulder to play Colorado (9-4, 1-0) Thursday at 6 p.m.
The game is on ROOT Sports in the Northwest, the Washington IMG College radio network -- and here again on GoHuskies.com with the internet's only live chat with play by play and analysis.
"Last year we had an older team, so we knew what it took to play defense the right way," Gaddy said. "This year's team thought it would be OK, that `U-Dub is U-Dub. We win. That's what we do.'"
These Huskies have learned it takes far more than reputation to win. It takes, above all, defense.
Romar's demanding that his guys stay in front of dribblers, deny the middle and move decisively on help defense appears to finally be sinking in. Since a humiliating, 92-73 loss at home to South Dakota State on Dec. 18 - which leading scorer Tony Wroten this week called "a reality check" -- the Dawgs have surrendered their fewest points of the season twice in the last three games.
"The coaches were fed up after that (South Dakota State game)," senior captain Darnell Gant said. "That's when guys really started to buy in."
Saturday, the Huskies won 76-60 over previously flying Oregon, which was 10-3 and had scored 92 points to rout Washington State two nights earlier. The Ducks shot 32 percent against UW, with leading scorer Devoe Joseph shooting 1 for 13 while getting hounded by Gaddy and teammate C.J. Wilcox.
Romar called it the best defensive night of the season for a team with five freshmen and two sophomores - including Wroten, the conference's latest player of the week, and second-year starter Terrence Ross.
For the first time this fall and winter, Romar feels his Huskies may be internalizing the key to sustained success in his system: It's not in how often you score; it's how often you keep the other guys from doing it.
"We're headed in that direction. We have been able to sustain it for longer periods of time," Romar said. "The Oregon game was probably our best defensive performance of the year. It's something we've been talking about before that, before South Dakota State. But sometimes it takes a little longer for the antibiotic to do what it is supposed to do."
The cure came about three weeks later than Huskies fans would have liked - an a-ha game on defense would have been nice at Nevada or in New York against Duke early last month, or especially before South Dakota State's Nate Wolters blitzed UW for 34 points. Yet halfway through a season is the point Romar has said he usually sees his youngest players grow more into the defenders he demands they be.
Wroten points to the starters leading a team meeting Dec. 19, the day following the South Dakota State debacle, as a turning point in the Huskies' season.
"They told everyone to buckle down," Wroten said. "That it's time to play defense, because defense wins championships."
Wroten has gotten that message, and at an opportune time. The conference's second-leading scorer at 16.8 points per game has averaged 21.3 points over his last six games, starting with the 23 he scored in the loss to Duke Dec. 10. His scoring has vaulted him into the starting lineup and sent Wilcox's sharpshooting onto the bench to begin games.
Known as a wondrous passer and scorer at Seattle's Garfield High School - asked how often he played defense at Garfield Wroten shrugged and said, "Not that much" -- Wroten is now getting more important minutes at both ends of the floor. He's averaged 32.6 minutes per game in the last three weeks.
That increase in playing time has coincided with his renewed commitment to defense.
"Coach said, `It's going to start with you,' that I am one of the best on-ball defenders," said Wroten, who at 6-feet-5 is a matchup nightmare for opposing guards. "Since then, I have been focusing more on defense and making sure my man doesn't score.
"I'm a good defender when I focus and take advantage of my length. ... We are becoming a better defensive team."
Speaking of defense, Colorado held Utah to 33 points in a 40-point blowout win at home last weekend. The Buffaloes are leading the conference in field-goal percentage defense at 39 percent.
In practices this week, Romar has reinforced to his Huskies the need to move the ball with extra passes on offense. They began doing that more consistently against Oregon and while scoring 95 points to beat Oregon State last week.
Quick, rushed shots excited opposing home crowds, sparked opponents' runs and doomed Washington at Saint Louis Nov. 20 and at Nevada Dec. 2. Those have been the Huskies' two worst performances away from Seattle this season.
"At home we can afford to take quick shots, because we feed off our crowd. On the road, quick shots feed their crowds," Gant said. "Now, going back on the road, we know we have to do things early. Get off to a good start. Do things right early in games."
Most of all that means playing gritty defense from the jump.
"We've been doing a lot of drills on keeping guys in front of us and out of the middle, the way we play defense at Washington," Gant said. "And if we don't do that, we get punished."
And not only on the practice court.
QUICK SHOTS: Wilcox tied his career high with 24 points against Oregon. It was his second consecutive game of coming off the bench, after starting the first 11 games. Romar said of his new lineup of Wroten, Gaddy, Ross, Gant and 7-foot center Aziz N'Diaye: "Right now, that's where it is. But that can change." ... Washington is 7-6 all-time against Colorado. The Buffaloes won the last meeting between the teams in Boulder, Feb. 22, 1995. Bob Bender was in his second year as Huskies coach. ... CU won a school-record 24 games last season and reached the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. It has the Pac-12's leading rebounder, sophomore Andre Roberson (12 per game). The 6-7 forward also averages 12 points per game. The Buffs' leading scorer is Carlon Brown, a 6-5 transfer who averages 12.8 points. Brown played 2 minutes as a freshman for Utah in a loss to the Huskies at Alaska Airlines Arena on Nov. 14, 2007.