University of Washington

Huskies aim to close gaps on defense

SEATTLE — It would have been a major upset if coach Lorenzo Romar had answered the question any other way.

With a game at No. 24 San Diego State looming Sunday, what has the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team been focusing on in practice?

Wait for it …

“Defense,” Romar said. “Defense, and just making sure that we run offense.”

That first part, of course, is in reference to Washington’s relatively porous defensive performances so far this season.

The Huskies (4-3) allow 51.8 percent shooting from the field, a figure that ranked 338th nationally when the week began.

Adjustments have been made, Romar said, and he has seen progress, if only incremental. UW’s last game was a 92-89, double-overtime victory over Long Beach State, which shot 50 percent from the field and scored 54 points in the paint.

“It’s been hard work, focusing, being able to dial in and know your rotations and your spots, and not to get frustrated because it is a new defense,” freshman guard Darin Johnson said.

But Romar said there were good signs, too.

“We try to force everything to the outside,” Romar said. “Earlier in the year, they were scoring right up the middle on us. And in that game, not one time did they score up the middle on us. So that was progress. Now, our rotations from the outside have to be better, and we just have to be better on the ball.

“There are a lot of situations where it’s just a blow-by. If you’re in rotation defense, too often that means you’re not guarding the ball at all, and there were situations where we were in rotation defense.

“So we’re sending them the right way now. Before, they were going every way they wanted to go, the offense. Now we’re sending them the right way, and now it’s just a matter of making sure we build that wall on that side to prevent baskets.”

At San Diego State, the emphasis will also be on running efficient offense, and not just in transition or on the fly.

The Aztecs (6-1), coached by Steve Fisher, rank fifth in the country in scoring defense and 18th in field-goal percentage defense. They force opponents to play efficient, half-court offense to defeat them.

So far, only No. 2 Arizona has.

“We’re averaging over 80 points a game, but it’s been a lot of up-and-down, freelance type of situations for us to be able to do that,” Romar said. “This could be a game where, just not as many possessions and we get the basketball, there’s not a whole lot of room or places to go. So we have to create those by making sure we run good offense.”

Sunday’s game is one of two remaining opportunities for the Huskies to win a nonconference road game. They travel to New Orleans to face Tulane on Dec. 17. But a victory over San Diego State would go much further toward proving the Huskies are capable of making some noise in the Pac-12 Conference this season.

Romar said that outside of Arizona, he doesn’t think a home-court advantage better than SDSU’s exists in the Pac-12.

“It’s the type of game that got away from us a couple of years ago when we did not make the NCAA tournament and we won our league,” Romar said. “We ended up winning 24, 25 games for the year, but we did not have that signature win.”

With three losses already, the Huskies need more than just a win over the Aztecs. But it would be a good start.