Maybe the point has finally gotten across. Maybe the reasons behind the benchings and the lineup shifts and the practice harangues are finally...
Maybe the point has finally gotten across.
Maybe the reasons behind the benchings and the lineup shifts and the practice harangues are finally sinking in.
All year, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar has said his team’s problems had nothing to do with offense. That once his players figured out how to play defense and, more important, were willing to commit themselves to doing so, wins would follow.
Sunday, the Huskies indicated that maybe they have gotten the message, beating Stanford 64-52 at Edmundson Pavilion. They limited the Cardinal to 19-of-50 shooting (38 percent) and 6 of 24 (25 percent) in the second half, a defensive showing that allowed Washington to overcome a sluggish offensive night of its own.
“We probably had our best defensive performance,” said Romar. “There have been too many times this year where we have given up far too many uncontested shots. Tonight, I thought we did a pretty good job of contesting.”
Indeed, the points were the fewest allowed by Washington in a conference game this season and second-fewest overall. Stanford’s 20 points in the second half were the fewest allowed by the Huskies in a half.
All that by a Huskies team that has ranked near the bottom of the Pac-10’s defensive statistics and last in points allowed almost all season.
But something has begun to click, as Washington has held three of its past four opponents to 44 percent shooting or less.
“We were young and we didn’t really know how much defense affects the game,” said freshman forward Quincy Pondexter. “But now we are understanding it, and we are starting to like playing defense more.”
The defensive effort, combined with a back-to-normal game by center Spencer Hawes, allowed the Huskies (16-8 overall, 6-7 Pac-10) to win their fifth game in their last six tries and keep alive their still-slim hopes of landing an at-large NCAA tournament bid.
Hawes returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 13 and led all scorers with 18 points, 12 coming in the second half as the Huskies distanced themselves from the Cardinal (15-8, 7-5).
Washington led 34-32 at halftime, then put on the clamps. After Robin Lopez made a 16-footer with 18:51 left to cut the lead to 36-35, Stanford didn’t make another field goal until 9:51 on a jumper by Fred Washington.
The Huskies, who shot just 8 of 28 in the second half, led only 43-38 at that point. But Washington then scored 11 in a row, capped by a hook shot by Hawes, to take a 54-38 lead with 5:59 left and put the game away. In a span of 13:09, Stanford scored just three points.
“We got outworked,” said Cardinal coach Trent Johnson. “Every loose ball, every rebound, everything plain and simple. They played aggressive from start to finish.”
The Huskies had ample motivation. Their 78-77 loss at Stanford on Jan. 11 ranked as maybe the most frustrating of the season, given the manner in which it got away at the end.
Hawes took that game particularly hard, as it marked one of the low points in his struggles with illness. He had just six points.
“Any time you have a game like that, you want to try to redeem yourself,” said Hawes, who made 7 of 13 shots Sunday, including 5 of 8 in the second half.
With Hawes back in the starting lineup, the Huskies again are going with the unit that many observers think is the team’s best: Hawes and Jon Brockman up front, Pondexter at small forward and Ryan Appleby and Justin Dentmon in the backcourt.
All but Brockman have been on the bench for substantial periods, and in the case of all but Hawes, every lineup change has seemed driven by defense.
“It’s usually always defense,” Brockman said. “They are getting it slowly and getting better and better and better at it. Tonight was a big game showing what can happen when we do it the right way.”
The Huskies have won the first two games of a three-game homestand that figures to determine if there is any real life in their NCAA hopes. Now comes Washington State on Wednesday.
“I think we have put ourselves within striking distance,” Romar said. “Before, we were just trying to dig ourselves out of a hole. I think we are almost out of the hole to where we can position ourselves. But we still don’t have much margin for error.”