C.J. Wilcox said the Huskies can learn a few things about themselves after close wins like Tuesday’s 83-79 nail-biter over Montana.
Washington certainly made things interesting in the first half and in the final minutes when they appeared out of sync defensively against at home against the Big Sky powerhouse who was nearly unstoppable early on.
The Huskies trailed by eight (29-21) in the first half. They got their first lead nearly 27 minutes into the game. They led by nine points and were up by eight (80-72) with 1:29 left before the offense stalled and the defense nearly buckled.
But in the end, Washington made the plays that mattered to improve to 3-2.
The Huskies were helped by a pair of missed UM free throws in the final 12 seconds, which might have made things very interesting. But Washington was also able to rely on its strong free-throw shooting and rebounding to pull out the win.
The Huskies made 24 of 31 at the line. They also dominated the glass 34-14, allowing Montana just one offensive rebound. Washington had 11 offensive rebounds and outscored UM 13-2 on second-chance points.
However, the game was noteworthy because coach Lorenzo Romar said afterwards the Huskies have tweaked their trademark, ball-hawking defense due to the NCAA new rules, which prohibit hand checking and allows offensive players greater freedom on the perimeter.
Washington will no longer extend its defense and try to deny passes and go for steals. Without a bonafide shot-blocker inside, the Huskies are intent on packing in their defense to restrict driving lanes to the basket.
Romar installed the offense Sunday after the team’s 0-2 showing last week in New York. The Huskies had two days to work out the kinks, which were still very evident in the first half Tuesday.
“For me I’ve been doing one way for five years,” said Wilcox, a fifth-year senior. “It’s more packed in and I find myself going out further than I was supposed to. We’re just trying to contain the drive. We’re giving up way too many open layups and we’re trying to pack it in more.”
Said Romar: “We are trying to protect the paint more. Because of the rules, I just found that maybe we play a little tentative outside. Maybe now we are more in the driving lanes instead of the passing lanes.”
More Huskies inside equaled more rebounds. However, Washington had difficulty finding UM shooters on the perimeter. The Grizzlies made 9 of 15 three-pointers in the first half and 11 of 23 in the game.
That was an impressive, impressive display of shooting early on,” Romar said. “We had some scout errors, some miscues and broken-down coverages and that kind of got them in a rhythm.
“In the second half we did a much better job of defending their shooters. … We did a better job of defending the three.”
Still, Washington has plenty of work to do and you have to wonder if the Huskies can continue with a seven-man rotation in which every starter plays at least 32 minutes.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity,” Wilcox said. “I think we’ve handled it well. Obviously it would be a different story if we had some of our guys, but we’ve been sticking together knowing we have to play harder and do more than we normally would.
“This year, we’ve been learning on the fly since the season started. We just have to keep learning and hopefully get it down by Pac-12.”
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