Big Test. Big Chance. Big Need For Defense at Oregon
Jan. 25, 2013
EUGENE, Ore. - Even the local TSA guy has gotten the key word for Huskies' basketball right now.
"I want to see some DEFENSE!" a middle-aged SeaTac Airport security officer bellowed at the Dawgs as they passed through a screening point Friday evening.
Yes, it's that obvious.
Washington (12-7, 4-2 Pac-12) goes as its defense goes -- period. The Huskies have won three games in a little more than a month, including during their 4-0 start to conference play, while shooting under 40 percent. That's as many such games as they'd won while in the entire previous two seasons combined.
So Saturday's pivotal test at No. 16 Oregon (17-2, 6-0) will come down to ... well, even the security guy knows.
"If they get out and they're kicking the ball ahead and they're hitting threes and they're getting uncontested layups and things of that nature, then it's going to be a very, very long night," coach Lorenzo Romar said in assessing the Ducks. "We have to make sure that we're organized defensively."
Washington's task is as huge as its opportunity.
C.J. Wilcox sure knows a good shot. And the Huskies' leading scorer sees a great one upcoming here Saturday afternoon - a chance at the Pac-12's only unbeaten team inside Matthew Knight Arena. It's the highest-ranked Ducks team Washington has faced since it beat No. 7 Oregon on Jan. 25, 2007, in Seattle.
Wilcox sees this as a tipping-point game in this season for the Huskies, owners of four consecutive conference regular-season or tournament championships. A win would keep Washington within a game of first place, with Oregon coming to Seattle in three weeks. A loss would leave them three games back of the Ducks.
"Definitely. I think if we can get this done at Oregon it will shoot us in the right direction," the 19.3-points-per-game scorer said in the aftermath of defensive lapses in a 74-66 loss Wednesday at Oregon State.
"If we lose," he said, raising his eyebrows, "you never know ...
"We just want to get this one done and see what kind of run we can go on."
His coach is preaching an incremental approach to this attempt at the Huskies' first win over a ranked opponent on the road in since Jan. 31, 2009, at No. 14 Arizona State.
In fact, Romar sounds like college football's Nick Saban.
"Whenever we start talking about (this being a tipping-point game), we start talking about the outcome and not the process," he said. "Sometimes if you're focused on the outcome - `We have to win, we have to do this' - you forget about the process.
"Right now we need to worry about the process. Are we going to come to play? Are we going to have a high level of intensity? Are we going to focus and execute? Those are the things we have to concentrate on. If we do those, then we'll be OK."
Romar, as he often reminds, is into patterns. A huge one with his team this season has been that when his players have perceived the opponent as a power and the task as a big challenge they have responded with intensity - specifically on defense. Those have been their best performances this season.
They routed Loyola, Md., an NCAA-tournament team last season, in November's opener. They roared to a huge lead early to beat Seton Hall in the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament later that month. They mostly "played right" while staying with fourth-ranked Ohio State in the eventual loss in that tournament's title game.
Saint Louis pounded surprised UW last season in Missouri. This season, the Huskies beat the Billikens at their own, rugged game. Washington roared to big early leads in winning at rival Washington State and California to begin Pac-12 play early this month, then beat Stanford for three road wins in its first three conference games. That hadn't happened since 1912.
Washington played well enough defensively to win at Connecticut last month - but was doomed by a frigid, sub-30-percent shooting night.
"If our pattern holds true ... there is a very healthy respect for Oregon. So I think because of that, I think our team will come out and be focused," Romar said. "What that will translate into? I don't know. But we'll be focused."
That wasn't the case entering the last two games, against Utah and at Oregon State. Both entered the games 0-5 in the Pac-12 while Washington was coming off its fourth 4-0 league start in 35 years.
Utah was the league's 11th-best field-goal shooting team coming into Alaska Airlines Arena last weekend. But it shot better than 60 percent in stunning the Huskies. Wednesday, Oregon State was shooting 60 percent for most of the first half while taking a baffling, 20-point lead 15 minutes into the game.
"Right now as a group, we have to grow up quickly. ... There needs to be a healthy fear, but respect," Romar said. "I think in our last two ball games we saw the records of the opponents that we were playing and didn't come out with quite the edge that we had in the other four games.
"I think that's been a difference in our team. We hadn't put the ball in the basket very well in a couple of those games, but our defense sustained us. That's what it has to be. We have to play defense and rebound and play with a high level of intensity."
Wilcox believes that feeling like they are going to be down early may be the keys to the Huskies from actually being in a hole Saturday.
"I wish we would come out with more intensity, like we are down 10 at the start of the game," Wilcox said. "That's when we play the right way. We play with intensity and we buckle down on D."
Offensively, the Huskies must cut down on the 15 turnovers that led to 17 easy Oregon State points Wednesday.
Wilcox has been the object of opposing defenses' grabs, holds and double-teams lately while averaging a league-best 21 points in conference games. He says Oregon State altered many UW passes and thus the offense with their length.
"That made our offense start a lot farther out. That got us out of our rhythm a little bit," he said.
The Ducks are similarly long. Their shortest starter was 6-1 point guard Dominic Artis. But the Eugene Register-Guard reports Oregon's assist leader will not play because of a foot injury and that 5-8 Johnathan Loyd will take his place. The rest of the starting five is 6-5 Damyean Dotson, 6-6 E.J. Singler, 6-7 Arsalan Kazemi and 6-11 Tony Woods, with Woods the only Duck not often on the perimeter. The sixth man is 6-5 forward Carlos Emery.
Whatever, senior point guard Abdul Gaddy said.
"We've just got to guard better, that's all," he said.
His shot just across half court that beat the halftime buzzer Wednesday gave the Huskies their first momentum of the long night in Corvallis. It brought them to within 10 and propelled them to rally within one - before more breakdowns on defense allowed the Beavers to surge back out in front.
"Yeah, I thought that was going to be the shot that turned us around," Gaddy said. "The second half we got close, but at crunch times we turned the ball over or did something (wrong). It's something we've got to fix.
"But we'll be all right. We've done it before."
He's right. UW is still leading the conference in scoring defense, allowing 62 points per game during league play.
"We know we have a good team. We know our strengths," he said. "And I believe when we are playing our best we are a really good team that can play with anybody in the country."
Asked to how he intends to get his guys to play at their best more, Gaddy kept it simple.
"There's no secret. We've just got to get ready," the Pac-12's active career leader with 377 assists, sixth-most in UW history. "Somehow we've got to will ourselves to get ready for each game. You know what I'm sayin'? Go out there, play as hard as we can and the best that we can.
"It can go either way. This is a critical point for us, but we have to take it one game at a time. That's the main thing for us."