It has been said before, but the true hallmark of Lorenzo Romar-coached Washington basketball teams isn't its athletic wings, breakneck transition pace or the litany of combo guards run at the point guard. It is tough, in-your-face man-to man defense. The defense led to missed shots, which allowed for transition baskets. It allowed for deflections and steals, which ended up laid in at the other end.
That defense has been rekindled within this Washington Huskies team, and it has caused a 4-0 in-conference start after their victory against the Colorado Buffaloes Thursday night. There are other factors, such as health and a solid rotation, but the biggest difference has been the defense. In the last four games Washington has held every single opponent under 40% shooting from the field. That is a very impressive number.
Tonight Colorado hit 36% of their shots, a whole ten percent below their season average. It wasn't as if they were just missing open shots, or getting unlucky bounces inside. There were a few of those, but none more than can be expected in any given game. Give any player enough chances at an open layup and he will miss one eventually, especially with a little bit of defense on him.
Washington started the game with a C.J. Wilcox three-pointer, and it was a sign of things to come. The PAC-12's leading scorer raised his season average by scoring 25 points. He didn't rebound quite like he has, but there weren't many chances with Desmond Simmons, Aziz N'Diaye and Abdul Gaddy accounting for 28 of Washington's 37 rebounds. His defense sparked his team just as much as his offense did. He played terrific on-ball defense as well as help-side defense. Twice, Wilcox deflected a pass to the wing, hitting it up the court, where he grabbed the ball for a steal.
Nothing would come easy for Colorado this game offensively, Washington made sure of that. The stats show that each team had five blocks total, but watching the game, the numbers don't tell the true story. They don't tell the times when N'Diaye and Wilcox each sent shots flying into the stands. They don't tell how much the shots-gone-backwards affected the psyche of Colorado's interior game. A post-hook typically doesn't go fourteen feet high, unless the defender can reach ten feet standing flat-footed.
Washington held the lead thanks to their strong defense and some timely scoring. They took the lead on that Wilcox three and never trailed, with Colorado tying the score only once, at 17-17, despite a very cold second half shooting for Washington.
- As I noted in the last game recap, Washington has continued to attempt to post-up using their guards. For this game, the only backcourt player I saw posting up, although he never received the entry, was Wilcox. Wilcox's fadeaway jumper, stepback jumper and stepthrough move combine to make a lethal post arsenal, should he be able to get a clean opportunity. He will always be better-suited for the perimeter, considering his skill-set - Ray Allen comparisons are floating around.
Speaking of Allen, the Seattle team he used to star for may be returning, but don't believe everything until it is official. The Maloof family has a history of backing out of deals at the last second. I am very excited at the prospect of an NBA team in Seattle.
- Gaddy is the streakiest shooter on the Washington team, and it isn't close. He was 0-4 from three-point range, with two of them (and nearly three) coming of the "nothing but air" variety. With Gaddy, he has an unorthodox shooting motion, with his shooting elbow being pointed out quite a bit. He isn't to Tayshaun Prince territory, but few are.
Unorthodox shooting methods can still be effective, but let me digress. I believe, right, wrong or indifferent, that unorthodox shooters tend to be a little bit streakier than shooters with "standard form." My reasoning is that unorthodox movements are more difficult to repeat.
In baseball, scouts often look for an "easy, repeatable throwing motion" within minor-league pitchers. There are other factors that go into the repetition of the motion, such as athleticism. The biggest part of it is the motion itself, however. With a consistent motion, a pitcher can have a consistent release point, which allows him to locate his pitches better. If his release point is all over the place, his command will suffer. If a pitcher's path to the release point is different every time, his command will suffer.
What in basketball has a release point? A jump shot. Why does a shooter hold his follow through even after the ball has been released? Muscle memory; it burns the release point into the motion, thus allowing the shooter to keep a more consistent release point, which then can reduce cold streaks.
Streakiness with a jumper happens regardless. Ray Allen, the best shooter of all-time, has games where he misses every three he takes. He is considered to have the purest shot form ever seen, yet he falls prey to cold streaks, as is the nature of a shooter.
Washington's own Ray Allen, C.J. Wilcox, doesn't have perfect shot form. With "perfect" (there is no perfect form) form, the ball is raised up on the dominant-hand side of the shooter's head. Wilcox is right-handed, yet the ball is raised up in front of his left eye. To quote the famous musician Hannah Montana, "Nobody's Perfect."
Ray Allen, as I have mentioned before, is my favorite player in the NBA. I love shooters who can do more than just shoot. For that reason, Wilcox is my favorite Husky.
- Help defense was the reason Washington won this game. Penetration was met by a stone wall of Washington defenders. N'Diaye deterred any shot attempt. Wilcox pestered anyone trying to finish inside. Even Jernard Jarreau had strong interior defense.
N'Diaye in particular has improved his help defense, especially on the pick n' roll. He too many times would be caught halfway between switching and hedging, and ball-handlers would take advantage of that, getting to the basket and finishing with ease. N'Diaye has now begun to switch almost exclusively, and rely on other perimeter defenders to keep the ball in front of him. He stays with the ball long enough for the roll-man to have to abandon his roll, which gives the ball-handler's primary defender time to make it back to the ball.
N'Diaye uses his length to force dribblers to go around him at very wide angles, and typically there is another wing defender like Scott Suggs or Andrew Andrews to help deter the wide angles. The improvement in this area has allowed defenders to stay home more on shooters, which has allowed fewer open threes.
- This was one of Jarreau's better games, and probably his best defensively. He has started to steal minutes back from Shawn Kemp Jr., who has failed to make a large impact on the game since he has returned from his knee injury. Jarreau used his long arms defensively to bother shots. He registered one block but deterred many others.
He also fought hard on the glass, keeping the ball alive on quite a few loose-ball scenarios, which led to quite a few offensive rebounds. In my notes I put that Jarreau and a Simmons-esque game, in the fact that he impacted the game in ways that don't show up on the box score: solid defense and keeping the 50/50 balls available to teammates.
At this point, Jarreau is still a project. The potential for him to be a very strong scorer is very much there, but while that is developing, the fact that he can contribute while he is still raw as a player is huge. It allows him to get repetitions in games, which increases comfort level greatly.
- Wilcox is a totally different player than the one that stepped onto the floor two years ago just to hit jumpers. He has become Washington's best perimeter defender within their rotation. Romar and his teammates trust him to call plays from the top of the key. There aren't many "pure shooters" with the ability to do that.
With his hip/leg fracture last season, there were certain things Wilcox was unable to do, just due to his limitations. He wasn't able to handle the ball and attack the basket with great authority. He couldn't be a great defender, as pushing off his injured leg wouldn't work nearly as well as pushing off as well as a healthy leg. You guys read me for my "expert analysis," and here I am telling you that pushing off with an injured leg doesn't work as well as pushing off of a healthy leg.
With Wilcox's full health this season, he have been given more freedom. He even was the ball-handler for a pick-n'-roll, which he executed to perfection. The help defender over-committed, so he split the double, and hit an open mid-range floater for two points. Enjoy Wilcox now, because he may leave after this season.