With four guards in their starting lineup, the Washington Huskies can run.
Today, against Arizona, they figure they’ll have to run.
For their lives.
“We have to be aggressive, because we’ve got a size disadvantage, obviously,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said Friday, after the Huskies practiced at McKale Center. “Once (the Wildcats) get back and they’re set, you have all these panthers back there, and they’re ready to pounce, these Dobermans, man. That makes it a little more difficult to score.”
Sometimes, it makes it a lot more difficult.
Arizona chewed up and spat out Washington State on Thursday so easily that the Cougars set McKale Center records for offensive futility, with lows in points (25), field goals (nine) and field goal percentage (20.0).
That game alone moved the Wildcats up in the national rankings from No. 12 to No. 5 in field goal percentage defense (36.2) and from No. 6 to No. 3 in scoring defense (54.4).
When Romar was asked what was his takeaway from the UA-WSU game, his response drew laughter.
“Confirmation,” he said. “They are pretty good. They defend you. Obviously, Washington State was without a couple of their guys, but at the same time when you hold a team to seven points at the half, in Division I basketball, that’s pretty impressive.”
Romar said dealing with UA’s defense would be the Huskies’ biggest challenge today.
“First and foremost, you’ve gotta find a way to score,” Romar said. “They’re so good defensively, they’re so long, they protect the rim so well, they have 6-8, 6-6, 6-7 guys, and they have a big guy in the middle.”
But there are a few things that could help the Huskies today.
- Washington slogged through the nonconference season at 8-5, suffering a season-ending ACL tear to forward Jernard Jarreau, arthroscopic surgery that cost forward Desmond Simmons 10 early games, and a protracted diagnosis of a thyroid condition to Shawn Kemp Jr. that cost the big man preseason time.
Then the Huskies went out and beat up-and-coming ASU 76-65 in their conference opener Thursday by holding the Sun Devils to 38.6 percent shooting, including a 2-for-14 mark from three-point range.
“What they just did speaks for itself,” UA coach Sean Miller said Thursday night. (He was not available for comment Friday.) “Sometimes a dangerous team is that team that’s cornered, who has a chip on its shoulder, who has something to prove, and I would imagine based on Washington’s nonconference season … they came into this conference season ready to prove something and they did that.”
• Rebounding. Despite its size, Washington managed to enter conference play with a collective plus-4.1 rebounding margin, and then out-rebounded ASU
40-34 on Thursday.
That could help a bit against an Arizona team that has a dominant 12.6 rebounding margin and averages 13.2 offensive boards a game.
“They’re so good on the backboards,” Romar said. “They miss a shot, it’s almost like it’s part of their offense. (It’s like) ‘Now let’s go get it, that’s how we finish our plays.’ ”
• Confidence. Romar said he told his players before the Arizona State game that he was proud of the way they stuck together through adversity, and he said Friday that he believed they were improving defensively even as they entered Pac-12 play last in defensive field goal percentage at 49.6.
But the ASU game showed themselves, and everyone else, that maybe they can do it.
If Arizona issued a confirmation Thursday, Washington found affirmation.
“We knew we were capable of a performance like that,” Washington guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. “It was just a matter of time until we strung 40 minutes together, with that type of focus and that type of defensive effort. We really came together last night.
“We didn’t have defensive lapses. Even when we weren’t making shots and turned the ball over a couple of times, we stayed focused.”