The Washington Huskies would have had a hard time defending a loss to the Portland Pilots, who came to Edmundson Pavilion on Saturday as...
The Washington Huskies would have had a hard time defending a loss to the Portland Pilots, who came to Edmundson Pavilion on Saturday as 17-point underdogs.
That the Huskies defended when it counted most, however, seemed to make it all worthwhile for UW players and coaches. They pointed to the process more than the end result — an unexpectedly close 67-63 nonconference victory over the Pilots — as a reason for optimism.
“We’re going to take the fact that we played a lot better defense today,” said Huskies forward Jon Brockman of a game that wasn’t decided until Ryan Appleby made a 6-foot running bank shot with seven seconds left. “That was our focus for the week, for the game. We struggled on offense. We just weren’t clicking. But the fact that we won an ugly game where we didn’t play good offense at all is reassuring.”
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar admitted that, for now, he’s willing to sacrifice a little offense to make the point that defense has to come first for the Huskies. He said last week that the lesson has been slower to take hold than he had hoped.
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Washington started its fourth different lineup, with Romar again saying he went with the five who showed the most commitment this week during practice. The Huskies ended up starting one of their most experienced lineups — two seniors and three juniors.
Romar then showed a quick hook, with players moving in and out of the lineup liberally based on how they were playing defense.
“Defensive errors I think you can control most of the time,” Romar said. “So when guys are going in and out for these errors, it can be hard to get an offensive rhythm going.”
Romar thinks it’s worth it, saying the payoff will come later when the defensive emphasis kicks in for good — he estimated UW spent five or six hours of practice last week on defense compared to 90 minutes on offense. The coach said offense “can be fixed in one or two days of practice,” but that’s not the case with defense.
But Romar also thought UW was simply off its game offensively, which showed as the Huskies shot 10 for 30 in the first half in falling behind 30-26 at the break.
Washington had a long halftime meeting, not coming out until about 90 seconds before the second half.
“We played such a bad first half, there was a lot of stuff to go over,” Appleby said.
The Huskies started the second half fast. Appleby made three three-pointers in the first two minutes of the second half. That put UW ahead as the Huskies made 14 of 19 shots (73.7 percent) after the break.
Still, the gritty Pilots from the West Coast Conference never went away. Portland cut a six-point lead to 65-63 with 1:33 left on a shot by Luke Sikma, the son of Sonics legend Jack Sikma. Portland got the ball back when Brockman fouled out on a charging call with 1:05 left. Luke Sikma finished with six points and seven rebounds.
An open three-pointer by Portland point guard Taishi Ito missed with 44 seconds left, and Washington rebounded.
Portland coach Eric Reveno decided not to foul even though Washington was 15 of 27 at the line, and Appleby milked the shot clock before driving into the lane for a runner with seven seconds left.
Appleby said he was surprised the Pilots didn’t foul, and Reveno admitted he might have made a mistake.
“I was worried about fouling the wrong guy, and we’ve got good confidence with our defense and we were not scoring at will at the other end,” Reveno said. “If Appleby doesn’t make that tough shot, then all of a sudden we are down two with eight seconds left and we’ll see what we’ve got.”
What the Huskies had at the end was a win that made them 5-4. In the eyes of Romar, Washington took a step forward defensively, which is what he says matters most. The Pilots (3-7) shot 40 percent, 32 in the second half.
Romar pointed to the defensive commitment and said, “If we are doing that, definitely the ship will be righted. I thought we made progress in spite of the score.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com