Arizona State's distinct zone defense is always a challenge for the up-tempo Washington Huskies, and coach Lorenzo Romar doesn't think that will change much tonight - even though the Huskies themselves are using more zone this season.
“Their zone is a lot different than ours,” Romar said before his team practiced Friday. “Thank goodness this isn’t our first year in the league. If we had just joined this league and you have one day to prepare for that, it’s difficult. ... It’s something that could really give you problems and it’s something that could give us problems.”
It certainly did last season, when the Sun Devils knocked off then-24th-ranked Washington, 68-51, in Tempe, Ariz. The Huskies handled it notably better in the rematch: a 79-56 victory.
However, for these run-loving Dawgs, facing the Sun Devils is seldom fun.
“It’s a 3-2 matchup – it’s different from everybody else’s zone,” junior guard Isaiah Thomas said. “They get out and contest every shot. They’ve got a good zone. ... Last year we didn’t play too well down there, but here we played exceptional.”
Meanwhile, Washington is increasingly using what Romar calls “a basic, junior high” 2-3 zone.
Over Romar’s first eight seasons at Washington, the Huskies have traditionally used an aggressive man-to-man defense and tried something else almost exclusively out of desperation.
“Sometimes we’d kind of look at it, and we’d just say, ‘Wow: We cannot guard these guys. Let’s try zone, even though we’re no good at it,’” Romar said. “It helps sometimes, and sometimes it didn’t.”
These days Washington shifts into a zone for any of a variety of reasons: to change the pace, to give his players a breather, because someone got into foul trouble.
“If the zone helps us, I’m all good with that,” senior Justin Holiday said. “People might think that you can’t get steals with a zone, but you actually can – you just have to be smart. And I think the zone helps us a lot being able to pack it in against some teams that can’t shoot as well.”
Most of all, Romar is going to the zone more for the most basic of reasons: He finally has the personnel to make it work.
The primary difference is the addition of 7-foot center Aziz N’Diaye, which allowed 6-foot-9 Matthew Bryan-Amaning to slide over to power forward, giving UW a size and power advantage over most Pacific-10 Conference teams.
“Whether we go man-to-man or zone, I’m comfortable,” N’Diaye said. “I’m not having any issues. It helps me a lot being in the middle and show my wingspan and getting big in there. I think coach is doing a pretty good job reading what the other team is doing.”
A glance at the standings shows these Sun Devils aren’t doing so well: 9-9 overall, and 1-5 in the Pac-10.
The 20th-ranked Huskies (14-4, 6-1) are alone atop the conference after Thursday’s 85-68 win over Arizona.
“We face the same challenge every year,” Romar said. “We play an Arizona team that is a little more up tempo and primarily a man-to-man group ... versus someone who plays exclusively all zone, and not just a regular zone but a very difficult zone to attack – it’s very aggressive. So it’s definitely a different type of ball game and one that with one day to prepare, it makes it a little tricky.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
ARIZONA STATE (9-9 OVERALL, 1-5 PACIFIC-10 CONFERENCE) AT NO. 20 WASHINGTON (14-4, 6-1)
1 p.m., Hec Edmundson Pavilion
TV: FSN. Radio: 950-AM.
series: ASU leads, 36-34 overall, but UW is 19-14 in Seattle. Washington has won 14 of the last 17 overall and six of the last seven at home.
statistical leaders: For ASU – Ty Abbott, 13.5 ppg; Kyle Cain, 6.2 rpg; Jamelle McMillan, 4.2 apg. For UW – Isaiah Thomas, 16.8 ppg and 5.7 apg; Matthew Bryan-Amaning, 7.7 rpg.
scouting report: Washington leads the Pac-10 in scoring and rebounding margin, while Arizona State is last in both categories. ASU also is at the bottom in scoring margin and free-throw percentage. The Sun Devils don’t lead the conference in any category; however they rank second in assists, behind the Huskies. ... Thomas leads the Pac-10 in assists, and on Thursday he became the second player in school history to have back-to-back games of 10 or more assists. ... Senior point guard McMillan leads the league in assists/turnover ratio. He is a Seattle native and son of former Sonics and current Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan. ... A win would move UW to 7-1 in conference for the first time since 1987.
next: 7 p.m. Jan. 30, at WSU, Friel Court, Pullman, FSN.
Don Ruiz, staff writer