Huskies have a shot to break Cougs’ zone
When the Washington Huskies bring the ball up the floor for their first possession of Saturday’s game against Washington State, they will likely see the Cougars drop into their 2-3 zone defense.
Because of personnel and some struggles in man-to-man defense, WSU has played zone defense with great regularity this season.
In past seasons, and even earlier this season, the simple sight of that packed-in defensive look would give the Huskies pause and their fans shivers of fear.
Zone was something that made the Huskies look uncomfortable offensively. It slowed their tempo, their motion and their production.
It was not that the Huskies couldn’t get shots against the zone. It was just the type of shots they were getting – too many 3-pointers, often from the wrong person to be shooting them.
But lately, it’s been different. The Huskies aren’t afraid of seeing a zone defense. Sure, there have been times when the defense slows them down offensively. But they never look unsure of where to go or what to do.
“I think we’ve been executing the zone offense really well,” said guard C.J. Wilcox.
That confidence stemmed largely from the first meeting with the Cougars, Jan. 15. WSU came out in a 2-3 zone and the Huskies couldn’t hit shots, couldn’t find a tempo and couldn’t get going.
They managed to score 25 points in the first half on 9-for-31 shooting from the field, including 3-for-13 accuracy from 3-point range. Wilcox, out with a stress fracture in his femur, could only sit and watch.
Coach Lorenzo Romar made a halftime adjustment that has made all the difference ever since. Romar moved guard Tony Wroten into the high post of the zone offense. The Huskies worked the ball into Wroten, and the ultra-aggressive freshman began attacking the basket and drawing fouls.
“It just opened everything up,” guard Abdul Gaddy said after that game.
It forced the zone to collapse and it opened up things for guard Terrence Ross, who scored 26 second-half points to lead the Huskies to a win.
“For the most part, I thought our zone was very effective and then Terrence Ross lit us up,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
If the Huskies don’t get Ross involved, they lose that game.
“We had to have Terrence bail us out,” Gaddy said.
On Saturday in Pullman, that shouldn’t be the case. The Huskies are not only more comfortable putting Wroten or Ross at the high post as a way to attack opposing zones, but Wilcox will be suited up. The sophomore sharp shooter is knocking down 40.5 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“They really packed it in against us,” Gaddy said. “With C.J., we will be able spread the floor more and force them to come out on the zone more.”
It certainly will make things easier for Ross.
“When C.J. is on the floor, you can’t spend all your time watching Terrence,” Romar said. “You always have to be aware where C.J. is at and Terrence is a beneficiary of it.”
And yet, the Huskies know that success against the zone starts with getting the ball to Wroten or Ross at the high post.
“That’s the main thing, get it into the middle there,” Wilcox said.
If they do that, the openings will be there.
“We know what we need to do against it to be successful,” Gaddy said. “We just have to do it.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports