BERKELEY, Calif. — It cannot be said with certainty – not yet, anyway – that the Washington Huskies have turned into stellar defenders of the 3-point line.
There’s too much luck involved, and too many games left, to reach such a conclusion. But the numbers suggest they might at least be on to something.
Washington’s first four Pac-12 Conference opponents combined to make just six of their 50 3-point attempts. That’s a 12 percent clip, by far the best in the conference through the first two weeks of Pac-12 competition. And it’s a trend the Huskies hope they can continue when they play at California on Wednesday (8 p.m., ESPNU) in a game between two of the conference’s hottest teams.
UW (11-6 overall, 3-1 Pac-12) has achieved that status by playing better defense – specifically as it
pertains to preventing dribble penetration and easy layups – but it also appears the Huskies are allowing fewer clean looks at 3-point attempts.
Coach Lorenzo Romar isn’t sure if UW’s new defensive scheme deserves the bulk of the credit for the way the Huskies have defended the perimeter, but it certainly hasn’t hurt.
Washington allowed opponents to make 39.2 percent of their 3-point attempts in nonconference play, a pretty staggering number. It took four conference games to bump that number down to 33.6 percent.
“Time will tell if that has anything to do with what we’re doing defensively,” Romar said before UW held then-No. 15 Colorado to a 1-for-12 3-point shooting performance in a 71-54 win Sunday. “We haven’t been in as many rotation situations with this type of defense as we have been in the past. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it or not. Time will tell.”
Romar has been satisfied with the way his players have contested 3-pointers. Part of that might be a byproduct of UW’s new philosophy of switching every ball-screen set on a guard – the Huskies start four of them – which allows them to instantly greet ballhandlers with a new defender.
So while the defense is not specifically designed to prevent 3-pointers – and it remains to be seen what a quality outside shooting team might be able to generate against it – the prevention of dribble penetration should help fuel a complete defensive effort.
“It’s tough against shooting teams,” senior guard C.J. Wilcox said. “The reason we got into it is because we were giving so many layups up. But I think we’re doing a good job of stopping the drive and getting out to the shooters and contesting their shots, and that’s the idea behind the defense.”
They’ve cut down on transition jumpers allowed, too.
Before, Romar said, “we were getting back in transition but we weren’t organized. We were there, but we didn’t know where people were, and teams were getting transition 3s against us. Our guys have done a good job of not giving those up as much anymore, as well. So it’s a combination of things that have helped us.”
Washington’s win over Utah on Wednesday was the 247th of Romar’s career, which moved him past legendary coach Marv Harshman for second-most in UW history (Hec Edmundson won 488 games between 1920-47).
During his weekly radio show on 950-AM, Romar said surpassing Harshman’s win total was a great honor, particularly because he felt Harshman was forced out of coaching too early in 1985.
“I felt like as a former player, I’ve got your back, Marv,” Romar said. “I’ve got a chance now to pick up where you left off, and if I could be here for eight years and be anywhere close to what you did, I’d feel really proud. And here it was – those wins tied and one more, and I just thought for that reason, it was pretty special.”
Cal coach Mike Montgomery said freshman guard Jabari Bird, who missed the past four games with an ankle injury, should return Wednesday.
Bird was a recruiting target of Romar and UW, one of a handful of high-profile prospects whom the Huskies thought they had a chance of landing.
He averages 11.2 points per game for the Bears.
“I thought we were close,” Romar said. “I thought there were times when it was really close to maybe we were right there with them. ... Jabari’s a great kid from a great family. His dad went to Cal. They did a great job of recruiting him, and he trusted those guys and in the end he decided to stay home.”
Washington (11-6, 3-1 Pac-12) at California (12-4, 3-0)
8 p.m., Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
TV: ESPNU. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: Tied 78-78.
Scouting report: Despite dealing with a couple of injuries to key players, California went into Oregon last week and swept the Ducks and Beavers. A big reason for the Bears’ resiliency has been senior guard Justin Cobbs, the reigning Pac-12 Conference player of the week. He leads the team in scoring (15.1 points per game) and assists ( 6.4), making him one of the more valuable players in the conference. Richard Solomon leads the Pac-12 in rebounding and averages a double-double per game, so he’s an inside force the Huskies must contain. Cal should regain the services of star freshman Jabari Bird, a 6-foot-6 guard who averaged 11.2 points a game before spraining his ankle. Cal coach Mike Montgomery said he expects Bird to play Wednesday, though he isn’t sure how many minutes he’ll get.
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