I’ve noticed that us Good Guys aren’t very good about writing about sports when sports go wrong. It’s a good thing we aren’t getting paid to write about these things because once our teams start losing, we all start going to the movies (or doing something that isn’t sports related). If you would like to pay us to write though, I’ll gladly accept your money. So, on this very full sports day, I’m going to ignore the Mariners trade that I don’t really like and talk about a surging Husky basketball team. I could have chose Chip Kelly or dead, fake girlfriends but I’ve been planning on writing about the Huskies for about a week.
The easiest place to start this post is with the question, “What happened to the Huskies?” The easy answer is that Romar pulled a Bugs Bunny and convinced the whole team that they are drinking something special so that they will be able to defeat the Monstars of the Pac-12. That’s probably not accurate though. Before conference play began, the Huskies suffered humiliating losses to Albany, Colorado State, and Nevada. The team had some good moments but they were overshadowed by inconsistency and a lack of play-makers. The team didn’t have an identity and seemed to be going no where.
There were excuses for this, and they were pretty legitimate. Romar lost two players to the first round of the NBA Draft. The team suffered injuries to Scott Suggs and Shawn Kemp Jr. The Dawgs weren’t a deep team to begin with and these injuries didn’t help. With that to boot, the Huskies were learning a new offense this year. When you don’t have your whole team there to practice a new offense, it’s hard to learn it. The defense also suffered, as they were slow on their rotations.
The Huskies played better towards the end of non-conference play but still was not consistent. The turnaround in the season may have come when the Dawgs went and played a game at Connecticut. They lost by 8 points but the defense held UConn to 65 points and the team played hard. It was clear that progress had been made.
Since that game, the Huskies have started Pac-12 play 4-0. Three of those wins have come on the road. Yes, they haven’t played the top teams in the conference but they have found a formula to let them compete against those top teams. That formula is hard-nosed defense, hustle, veteran scoring, and more hard-nosed defense.
Read about those after the jump!
The Huskies have played the best defense of the Romar-era in the last four games. No, really. In the past 4 games they have held teams to 56 points/game. They rotate faster than any team Romar has. They truly understand where they are supposed to be. With Aziz in the middle, opposing players are afraid to go inside. C.J. Wilcox is one of the most underrated defenders in the Pac-12. And Desmond Simmons is Bobby Jones second-coming except he’s meaner. The guards have gotten much better against the dribble drive and when they do let someone past, the help has been there.
There were tw0 instances tonight that blew me away tonight. The first came when Colorado had the ball on the left wing. They reversed it to the right and then down to the baseline. The defense rotated accordingly. The Buffalo player drove the baseline and Aziz came over to stop him, leaving his man on the opposite block. The offensive player read it and passed it to the open man. Only, the pass was intercepted by the point guard (I believe it was Gaddy). If that wasn’t enough, there was another defender there to intercept the pass if Gaddy had somehow missed it. This team doesn’t have the quickness of some of Romar’s classic teams but that was the fastest and most fluid rotation I’ve ever seen.
The second instance came when the Dawgs had turned the ball over. Gaddy threw an errant pass, I believe and the Buffaloes had a fast-break. As Colorado took off, they had a 4-1 break with three Huskies chasing from behind and Gaddy back on D. The Buffaloes took the ball past half-court and the point-guard looked to pass except by that time two Huskies had caught up on his right. His only option was to pass to his left, Gaddy jumped that pass and then started a Husky fast-break. Maybe this play should be included in the hustle portion, but it was beautiful. This team has sold out to defense and this is what will keep them in the Pac-12 hunt and in games.
After a few of the tough early losses, Desmond Simmons changed. He turned into this guy who dove all over the floor and guarded the opposing teams best player, regardless of the height of that player. He was like Jon Brockman. The whole team has slowly adopted his heart and this has made them into this scrappy team. This team won’t beat you with alley-oops or by outscoring you. They’ll beat you because they get to more loose balls than anyone else. Aziz dove on the floor twice tonight. Andrew Andrews may make some freshmen mistakes but there’s no questioning his want. The whole team is swarming and showing an enormous amount of heart.
C.J. just keeps developing as a player. As I mentioned above, he’s turned into a great defender. His new offensive move is driving hard to the free-throw line from the wing. He’ll then cross-over, stop and shoot a fade-away. I’ve only seen him miss it once. Tonight was the first game that I’ve seen Romar actually run an isolation play for Wilcox. Wilcox scored off the dribble. I think we’ll probably see more of that as the season goes on. C.J. works extremely hard to get open and takes advantage of it.
Of course, I’ve simplified things. There are more reasons why this team is winning. Aziz’s confidence is growing. Suggs, while he’s been somewhat frustrating, always seems to make a basket just when you think the team is letting the game slip away. Gaddy’s jump shot might be missing but he’s finding new ways to contribute every game, like his 3 offensive rebounds in the first half tonight. The schedule gets much tougher as we go on, but the Huskies have put themselves in position to make a run at this conference. If they keep playing tough defense, they will do all right. These Dawgs are much easier to cheer for than the Tony Wroten-led Huskies of last year so soak that in. I do worry about them facing better teams. They have been lucky in teams not hitting open 3’s and fast guards still may be able to penetrate. But, those are worries for another day.
The Huskies are 4-0 in conference play and have 8 of their last 14 games at home. I never thought that would have happened a month ago. Things change. Pac-12 refs still suck, but our Huskies don’t!