The Washington Huskies will wake up Thursday morning at the top of the Pac-12 standings.
Who would have predicted that a month ago?
Washington is tied with UCLA at 4-0 for the conference lead. The Bruins will have a chance to recapture sole possession of first place when it hosts Oregon State tonight. Regardless of the outcome in Los Angeles, the Huskies are thrilled with their position.
But then, coach Lorenzo Romar was somewhat evasive when asked if he was happy with the Huskies defensively following Wednesday’s 64-54 win over Colorado in the Pac-12 home opener at Edmundson Pavilion.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” he said. “Happier than I was before. Still got to get better though.”
Every game against Washington is a slugfest in basketball shorts. The Huskies would have it no other way. They say they relish stopping opponents from scoring even more than making baskets.
Abdul Gaddy said: “We take pride in our defense. We don’t like it when people score on us.”
He went on and explained how the Huskies enjoy pushing opponents to the point of frustration when “you can here them bickering with each other.”
During its four-game winning streak, Washington has held each opponent under 40 percent shooting, which is the first time since 2010.
If this trend continues, we’ll have to ask if this is Romar’s best coaching performance during his 11 years at Washington. Somehow he’s gotten offensive-minded players like C.J. Wilcox, who admitted earlier this week he never played defense in high school, to buy into a defense-first mentality.
Romar has also gotten players to buy into their roles. Players aren’t complaining about getting more shots, which Romar hinted had been a problem in the past.
“Before the season started I think I had mentioned that this group perhaps was maybe the most coachable and had the best chemistry of any team that we’ve had,” he said. “Any team. Not last year’s, but any team. I didn’t say they were the best team, just chemistry. And I think that’s the reason we’re able to do that. We don’t several guys sulking because they’re not getting more shots and all that. We’re all for one and one for all. … That’s kind of how it is. It makes a difference.”
Colorado coach Tad Boyle took it a step farther and said the loss of Tony Wroten Jr., last season’s Pac-12 freshman of the year who was taken 25th in the NBA draft, is addition by subtraction for the Huskies.
“They are so much better,” Boyle said. “Last year that Wroten kid was out there trying to steal and gamble a lot, but this year they are so much more sound this year. They are so long, so athletic, they’ve got the big guy in the middle, you’ve got to score against Washington and you’ve got to execute against them because nothing is going to come easy.”
Still Washington struggled early this season while finding its identity.
“We always knew we could play good defense,” Wilcox said. “We came into the season saying that’s what we need to do. It took some time to finally get it through our heads that this is the way we need to play.”
In front of an enthusiastic crowd of 8,184 – the largest of the season, Washington stuck to its winning formula. Desmond Simmons and Aziz N’Diaye (above, far right) led the way defensively. Simmons collected 12 rebounds and held CU’s Andre Roberson (10 points and 11 rebounds) relatively in check while N’Diaye collected 11 boards and blocked three shots. He also limited CU forward Josh Scott to eight points.
Washington held Colorado to a season-low 36.2 percent shooting from the field (7 of 24) and just 1 of 10 on three-pointers. The Buffaloes only trey was Roberson’s desperation banked shot from behind the arc that just beat the shot clock. The 54 points was the second fewest for CU.
The Huskies were worse from the field (33.9 percent, 20 of 59), but they were 6 of 20 on treys and 18 of 23 at the free throw line.
Washington also created shots for Wilcox, who scored 25 and Scott Suggs who had 13.
All of it led to an ugly win that looked beautiful in its defensive execution.
“You can color it any way you want to color it,” Romar said. “I just know that when you go out and you play two games in a row and you have single-digit turnovers, you hold four teams to under 40% from the field, you outrebound three out of the four, you’re beginning to do things right. The only “ugly” thing if you want to call it that is that we haven’t been making shots. Two out of the last four games we haven’t made shots. Other than that, I think we’re doing everything else OK.”
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— Let’s go with co-MVPs tonight. Wilcox led the way offensively and N’Diaye on the defensive end. The Huskies need Wilcox to score and he came through in a major way. He had great success on set plays that ran him off of screens to the top of the key for open three-pointers. He also hounded the ball and denied passes. His early steal led to a fast break layup. Wilcox finished with 25 points, which is the 10th time this season he’s tallied 20 or more.
N’Diaye had a significant impact on the game. He blocked three shots and altered maybe a dozen more. Whenever a CU guard got free and darted into the lane, N’Diaye was there. How many times did Askia Booker charge to the basket only to get stonewalled by the 7-foot center. N’Diaye only scored six points, but he was a major presence offensively because five of his 11 rebounds were on the offensive glass.
— In many ways, Simmons outplayed Roberson, who was a first-team all-conference pick last season. At the very least, he held his own and the stalemate was essential for Washington. Simmons had more rebounds (12-11), but he had fewer points (1-10) and blocks (0-3). But the Huskies didn’t need Simmons’ points. They needed his defensive tenacity, grit and hustle. They needed him getting his hands on loose balls. They needed his energy and passion. Maybe Simmons will mature into a scoring threat, but for now is biggest contributions don’t always make their way to the stat sheet.
Wilcox on Simmons and N’Diaye: “We feed off Desmond and Aziz who are top players in rebounds. Desmond is back there as our enforcer and it helps us to continue guarding really good guards. We get our identity from those players, they really love playing defense which amps us up.”
— Suggs made a couple of impossible shots tonight, including a step-back three-pointer despite being fouled early in the second half. He sank the ensuing free throw for a rare four-point play. Washington needed the basket because it had gone nearly five minutes without a score. Suggs is developing a knack of knowing when to take over. He did it two weeks ago at Washington State and against Colorado it was as if he sensed when Wilcox needed a break and took it upon himself to create shots. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-16 shooting and had two assists.
— The home court didn’t help Gaddy’s failing accuracy. He struggled shooting last week on the road and tonight he had eight points while connecting on just 2 of 12 shots, including a couple of airballs. Still the senior point guard made big contributions, particularly on the glass where he had four offensive rebounds. He finished with five total. Gaddy made amends for the off-shooting performance with three assists, two steals and zero turnovers. It’s the second time in the past three games Gaddy has not committed a TO. He also kept Booker (nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and three turnovers) relatively in check. Gaddy played 28 minutes.
— Solid performance from redshirt freshman Andrew Andrews. He scored nine points on 2-for-4 shooting. He nailed a big three-pointer near the UW bench and made all four of his free throws in 25 minutes. Andrews also had three rebounds.
— The statistics may not reflect it, but redshirt freshman Jernard Jarreau played arguably his best game. He was 0 for 2 from the field finished with just two points, two rebounds, a steal and a block in 10 minutes. However, the 6-10 forward played solid defense.
“Jernard was very good tonight in terms of playing with energy,” Romar said. “He just used his length to his and our advantage .He was just active and that’s what kind of what we envision Jernard to be able to do defensively. Just active. Getting his hands on balls. Blocking shots. He did a very good job.”
Gaddy on Jarreau: “Jernard is a different type of forward in that he can catch a high post and score. He can knock down a midrange jumper. We always have to tell him to stay aggressive since this is still a new thing for him as a freshman. He gave us great energy tonight, and he’ll take from there and keep helping us.”
— Shawn Kemp Jr. played eight minutes and had one rebound and a turnover.