STANFORD, Calif. — The Washington Huskies’ basketball practices are sometimes stopped by coach Lorenzo Romar, who, on certain occasions, will look at Mike Anderson and ask him a question.
“Why didn’t you shoot the ball? Why didn’t you take advantage of that opportunity?”
To which Anderson, a 6-foot-4 guard playing the power forward spot this season, will invariably reply: “Yes, coach. I got you.”
The offensive end is the only area of Anderson’s game that lacks intense aggression. He is otherwise UW’s most tenacious player, crashing the glass and crashing into opponents often taller and heavier than him, efforts that help compensate for the fact that Washington’s starting lineup includes only one player taller than 6-foot-5.
The junior-college transfer continues his unexpected season as a makeshift power forward on Saturday, when the Huskies visit Stanford at Maples Pavilion (8 p.m., ESPNU).
But despite his coach’s urging that he more often display his offensive skills — he handles the ball and finishes well around the basket — Anderson, a native of Hartford, Conn., has no problem with his defensive assignments. He will remind you, bluntly, that
defending bigger players is not a big deal.
“I played against jail-ball players before, so it doesn’t really matter,” Anderson said after UW’s Friday practice at Maples, his words augmented by his thick, East Coast accent. “Jail-ball players. Dudes that have been to jail. Concrete. All that. Playground. It doesn’t matter to me.”
What does matter, though, at least to Romar, is that Anderson doesn’t quite attack the rim the same way he attacks opposing ballhandlers. He’s an adept 3-point shooter and more than adequate off the dribble. But he’d prefer to set up his teammates, one reason why after averaging double-figures through part of the nonconference season — thanks in large part to crafty hustle plays and putbacks — his scoring average has dipped to 6.8 points a game (that’s in addition to his average of 6.7 rebounds).
Anderson finished with double-digit scoring in six of UW’s first 11 games, highlighted by a 19-point, 16-rebound performance in a 92-89 double-overtime victory over Long Beach State.
In five Pac-12 Conference games, he has scored a total of 14 points, with a single-game high of five.
“It’s not hard, it’s just something I grew up doing,” Anderson said of changing his attitude to look more often to shoot. He was a point guard in a past life. “I’ve just got to be more aggressive. I’m an aggressive player, but I just like to pass the ball. That’s just me.”
Romar frequently praises him as an essential component to UW’s victories. Even in an 82-56 defeat at California on Wednesday, Anderson led the team with eight rebounds. But if he can score at the same rate he did during nonconference play, the Huskies will be that much better.
The mismatches work both ways: Anderson might have to guard bigger players, but that often means those big dudes have to guard him, too. Romar wants him to use his quickness to take advantage.
“Mike is unselfish to a fault at times, and we have to continue to tell him to be more aggressive, and he’s starting to do that now,” Romar said. “That makes us a better team.”
Nigel Williams-Goss, UW’s freshman point guard, said “sometimes it’s a disadvantage to us defensively because teams are a little bit bigger than us. But offensively, you want to be able to take advantage of our smaller guys, where a big is guarding him. Mike has really good skills with his ballhandling and his finishing at the basket, so we just kind of urge him to be as aggressive as possible.”
And that’s likely the only thing they’d like him to change about his game.
“I just feel like once I’m playing and talking and giving everybody energy, they feed off my energy,” Anderson said. When that happens, “I just feel like we’ll get that win.”
WASHINGTON (11-7, 3-2 PAC-12) AT STANFORD (11-5, 2-2)
8 P.M.., MAPLES PAVILION, STANFORD, CALIF.
TV: ESPNU. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: Stanford leads, 70-68.
Scouting report: California’s size and length were a problem for the Huskies in their loss Wednesday. It doesn’t get any easier Saturday night at Stanford. The Cardinal starts four players who are taller than all but one of UW’s starters, and have NBA-like size across their front line. Huestis is a defensive specialist and strong rebounder but also scores in double-figures and is one of the more rugged players in the conference. Randle has turned into a go-to scorer. Powell is, too. This is an experienced team with enough talent to make you wonder why they don’t win more often, though they did win at Oregon and hammered Washington State. Stanford shoots 40 percent from 3-point range. Randle (42.4 percent) and Brown (52.8 percent) lead that effort.
firstname.lastname@example.org@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @ChristianCaple