The Huskies basketball team is heading into their most important week of the season. They were everyone’s favorite to win the Pac-10 in the pre-season and through the beginning of conference play. Then, they stumbled in 3 straight games against teams that aren’t in the top 3 in the conference. That leaves this week’s games, against ASU and Arizona, as must-wins if the Dawgs want an outright conference title.
Over the course of the Huskies 3 game losing streak, there was something completely off about the Huskies. They didn’t look the Washington basketball team that we’d all grown used to. Then, in their home games last week, it all came together again. That leaves us to ask the question, what was the difference?
The two obvious things you can point to are team defense and home-court advantage. Those clearly were huge reasons for the turn around. But, the team I saw dismantle Cal last week was completely different than the team that lost at Oregon State. So, are there more reasons why the Huskies were a different team last week? Of course. Here’s my stab at a few of them:
- Venoy Overton – Throughout this season, Venoy hasn’t been the same player he was last year. There were too many turnovers, not enough assists, and his defense wasn’t where it used to be. Part of it was the refs calling him closer due to his reputation, but the intensity just didn’t seem to be there. Last year, the first time V.O. came off the bench and into a ballgame it seemed as if a wave of an energy had washed over the building. This year we haven’t felt that. Losing Abdul Gaddy also didn’t help Overton, as more pressure was put on his back as a point guard. Last week, Venoy was close to getting back to his old self. He was driving, scoring, dishing, and, most of all, harassing opponents on defense. When he’s like that, this team is at another level. He pushes the pace and frustrates opponents. This will come up as a key this week, specifically against Arizona. The Wildcats point guards, although they’ve improved, are prone to turnovers and that could change the game around. I could make an argument for Overton being the Huskies most important player going forward. We know more or less what we have with I.T., MBA, and Justin. We know some other guys will knock down shots. But, if Overton is the player he was last season this team takes a step forward.
- The Role Players – Many people would count Overton as a role player, but I think he’s a little more of a key to success than the role players. The role players I have in mind here are Scott Suggs, C.J. Wilcox, and Darnell Gant. When all these guys play well, I think the Huskies are as good as anyone in the country. Scott Suggs and C.J. Wilcox are straight shooters. If they make their shots, then they’re doing their job. Percy Allen wonders if Scott Suggs is taking a step forward, and it sure seems like he has in recent weeks. I still count anything he does other than shooting well as extra. The same goes with C.J. Wilcox. Last week, we saw Wilcox at his best. He was scoring quickly and scoring in bunches. If he is shooting like that, he needs to be on the court about 20 minutes a game. The other role player, Gant, serves a different purpose in my opinion. Gant is there for rebounding and for his defense. If Gant grabs 5 rebounds a game, or more, than he is doing his job. Also, we all forget that Darnell is an underrated defender. For his size, he has great agility which gives him an advantage against other guys his size. Lately, Gant may be shooting a little too much, but it’s good to see him with confidence.
- Big Plays – I don’t think there are too many “big play” basketball teams, but this is one of them. This team builds off of them. Think back to the 3 game losing streak. How many alley-oops were there? How many fast-break dunks? How many great passes that led to made 3-pointers? Not many. Last week came and there were more highlights than you could count. The home crowd does play a part in this one, but still a big play on the road can really change the momentum. I think hustle plays lead to big plays, and maybe the Huskies were lacking their usual hustle on their 3 game skid.
- Help Defense – In my opinion, defense was the biggest cause of the losing streak and the wins last week. I think Romar would agree and just about anyone else who covers the Huskies. But, one small aspect that was remarkably better the last 2 games was the Huskies help defense. Yes, the on ball pressure was much better but the help defense made it that way. I’d like to see the amount of charges the Huskies took in their 3 game losing streak compared to their 2 game winning streak. Charges weren’t the only stat that proved that. The Huskies also had an amazing amount of blocked shots over the last 2 games that proved their help defense. If the Huskies are going to win, they can’t allow all the open lanes that we saw during their 3 game losing streak.
There are surely more points to be made on this (and feel free to put them in the comments). But, these are a few hidden keys in order for the Huskies to be successful. Go Dawgs!