Huskies Insider Blog

Huskies' defense is the root of their problems

The problems of the University of Washington boil down to one simple issue: Defense.

Sure, there are on-court chemistry issues that will get worked out.

Yes, the Huskies could be a little cleaner with their screens in the half court set.

Maybe they could get to the free throw line a little more.

But really, in all of the losses, in all of the struggles, the basic problem for the Huskies has been the inability to defend opponents.

"The No. 1 thing we're looking at is becoming a better defensive team,” head coach Lorenzo Romar said. “The way we play defense is the catalyst for everything we do. When we don't defend, things don't go well for us.”

When the Huskies don’t defend, they don’t win.

At the heart of the defensive issues is the inability to stop dribble penetration from opposing guards. It’s been an issue all season. Over the course of a game, players are going to get beat off the dribble from time to time. But it’s been all of the time for the Huskies. The most recent example was against South Dakota State point guard Nathan Wolters, who carved up the Huskies for 31 points. Wolters didn’t do it by shooting jumpshots. It was simple one-on-on, “I’m going to beat you off the dribble,” and get to the basket. He did it over and over. The Huskies knew it was coming and couldn’t stop it.

“We have to take that personally,” said Tony Wroten. “You can’t let them break you down like that.”

But Wolters wasn’t the first player to do that. St. Louis’ Kwamain Mitchell (18 points), Nevada’s Deonte Burton (31 points), Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom (23 points) and Duke’s Austin Rivers (18 points) also found the path to the basket had minimal resistance far too often.

Read more here:"No. 1 we have to do a better job of containing the basketball,” Romar said. “If we can't keep the basketball in front of us, then our entire defense breaks down. If we're able to contain the basketball and they do get by us at times, we have to do a better job with our rotations. We have to rotate quicker and smarter to make the right decisions."

The defensive issues haven’t been limited to one player. Wroten has taken much of the criticism because his on-ball defense has been the most spotty. But Terrence Ross, C.J. Wilcox and Abdul Gaddy all tried to guard Wolters on Sunday and struggled.

So what is the remedy?

“Continue to rep it. Continue to emphasize it,” Romar said. “One of the other things about us defensively we usually have 4-5 guys to rotate in there. The guys that are playing the majority of minutes at times because of foul trouble or someone sitting out sometimes I think fatigue sets in and we're not able to sustain the type of pressure that we need to sustain. I think that hurts us at times."

The Huskies are giving up 76.3 points per game this season, which ranks 318th in the country. Meanwhile opponents’ effective field goal percentage, which weighs 3-point percentage with more value in the equation, is 49.3 percent. That number ranks 215th in the country and 10th in the Pac-12.

This will be the final tune-up before Pac-12 play begins next week against Oregon State. A win today would leave the Huskies at 6-5 after the nonconference season. That’s not exactly a way to build your NCAA tournament resume. Romar loathes such talk about resumes and needs. But it is particularly galling with how poorly his team has played.

“I am not going to get caught up in what we have to do and what we have to win to get somewhere,” Romar said. “Before we start figuring out what our RPI is, we better get better or those questions are irrelevant. I think you have a good question, but we would be getting way ahead of ourselves before we start calculating what we need to do.”

There really isn’t much calculation. Washington would likely need to have an outstanding record in a mediocre Pac-12 and win the conference title to assure anything.

And right now with the way the Huskies are playing, that seems like far from a guarantee.

“If we keep losing, it’s not going to matter,” said C.J. Wilcox. “We need to work on us right now.”