When they lose, the Washington Huskies frequently point to what their coach calls “slippage,” typically on the defensive end of the court, as the primary cause.
Slippage is a broad term used most often by coach Lorenzo Romar to describe missed assignments, slow rotations, uncontested outside shots and the like.
During UW’s current four-game losing streak, there has been plenty of that. But there’s a simple explanation for why the Huskies find themselves in the unenviable position of needing near-perfect defense to beat each opponent.
They can’t make 3-pointers.
Or, at least, they haven’t. Through their first 15 games, the Huskies have converted just 30.6 percent of their 3-point tries, a number that ranks 11th in the Pac-12. As it currently stands, would be the worst 3-point shooting mark by any of Romar’s Washington teams. The previous low point was in the 2009-10 season, when UW shot 33.6 percent from beyond the arc.
That team, led by Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas, advanced to the Sweet 16. This team, which was ranked 13th in both major polls fewer than three weeks ago, hasn’t won since Dec. 22 and badly needs a victory Thursday against the rejuvenated Oregon State Beavers.
OSU (11-4 overall, 2-1 in Pac-12) beat conference favorite Arizona last week, and allows opponents to shoot just 28.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. There is some luck associated with such a number, but it’s still not great news for a UW team that has missed 43 of its last 57 attempts from 3-point range (24.6 percent) – each of those in close, winnable games that wound up as losses.
Romar was optimistic about his team’s shooting abilities when it began practicing, and said after poor shooting in UW’s first two games that “after about four or five games, if we are not making 3s and we’re shooting 20 percent, then I will say, ‘Wow, we’re not that good of a shooting team.’ ”
They haven’t been quite that bad. But they certainly haven’t been good. Romar wonders if attention placed on other areas, like defense and rebounding, might be contributing to that.
“I think sometimes if you’re not quite sure offensively, if you don’t have a good feel for exactly where you’re supposed to be, how you’re supposed to read every situation, it makes you think,” Romar said .
“Thinking takes your accuracy away. It takes your athleticism away. It takes a lot away when you’re thinking too much. Sometimes we may think too much, and then when the ball doesn’t go in the basket for a period of time, doubt can creep in. Shooters have to shoot with supreme confidence.”
The Huskies knew replacing C.J. Wilcox, their all-time leader in made 3s, would be difficult. But the players who did return from last year’s team haven’t picked up the slack.
Nigel Williams-Goss, UW’s leading scorer and one of the nation’s most productive point guards, has refined just about every facet of his game except for his outside shooting. He made 35.6 percent from 3-point range last season. This year, he’s hit only 9 of his 41 attempts (22.0 percent).
After a hot finish to last season, Andrew Andrews has been inconsistent (32.9 percent). Mike Anderson is tops on the team at 39.5 percent, but he doesn’t shoot much. Two new additions this season — freshman Donaven Dorsey from Lacey’s Timberline High and junior-college transfer Quevyn Winters — possess the necessary skills to heat up from 3-point range. But neither plays much, and opponents now emphasize each player’s outside shooting abilities on their scouting reports. Open looks are rare.
Sophomore guard Darin Johnson has made only 5 of 23 (21.7 percent). It’s a team-wide problem, and it has been all season.
“I can’t really tell you exactly why that is,” Williams-Goss said. “Just in a slump shooting as a unit, and we’re continuing to get our extra work in, continue to get shots up in practice and just have the confidence and belief that they’ll start to fall.”
Romar preaches shooting with confidence, too. But not for everyone.
“There’s that delicate balance,” Romar said. “If you’re wide open, you think you’ve got to shoot the ball. But if you’re not successful enough, you need to do something else.”
Like throw it inside to Shawn Kemp Jr. or Robert Upshaw – “we should definitely go to them more,” Romar said – each of whom shoot better than 59 percent from the field. Washington’s offense is at its best when the Huskies work the ball inside-out.
Emphasis on the inside.
“It’s never acceptable when we shoot a contested shot early in the shot-clock from 3, and sometimes we do that,” Romar said. “And I would like for every one of those contested 3s probably to be thrown inside.
“In a perfect world, if I could script it, Nigel continues to do what he’s doing, our bigs continue to do what they’re doing, we get back to guarding the way we’re supposed to, and everyone else, they don’t need to be Superman. They just need to be able to make open shots. And then I think we’ll be pretty good.”
Until then, they’ll keep taking extra shots before and after practice, and try to summon the belief that they will make a higher percentage of them.
“Shooting is all mental,” Wiliams-Goss said. “This game has so much to do with confidence. Guys have just got to keep their confidence high and step into every shot like they’ve made the last 10. I think if they do that, you’ll start to see improvement.”