By Christian Caple The News Tribune
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 play, to reach such a conclusion, but the numbers suggest the Huskies’ defense might at least be on to something.
Washington’s first four Pacific-12 Conference opponents combined to make just six of their 50 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc. That’s a 12 percent clip, by far the best 3-point defense 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 California tonight in a game between two of the conference’s hottest teams.
UW (11-6, 3-1 in 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.
Lorenzo Romar isn’t entirely 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 push that number down.
“Time will tell if that has anything to do with what we’re doing defensively,” Romar said last week, before UW held No. 15 Colorado to a 1-for-12 3-point shooting performance in a 71-54 victory. “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.”
He’s been satisfied with the way his players have contested 3-point attempts. 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 ball-handlers 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 ultimately will fuel a complete 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 jump shots 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 victory 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.
During his weekly radio show on KJR 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.
“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 Golden Bears’ past four games with an ankle injury, should return to the court tonight.
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.
“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.”