SEATTLE — At the start of each men’s basketball season, University of Washington coach Lorenzo Romar rolls out the ball and proclaims the identity.
Husky basketball, he tells his players the first of many times, begins with defense.
It’s a concept that has served Roma
r well, and one into which all of his most successful teams have bought.
The 2010-11 Huskies could be added to that list. But in recent weeks, they seem to have lost their identity.
A defense that held 18 of its first 19 opponents under 80 points has allowed four 80-plus-point performances in the past nine games. Washington State was the latest to turn the trick, scoring 54 second-half points in an 80-69 win over the Huskies at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Sunday night.
“I think we understand, intellectually, but deep down in our gut we have to understand who we are and what makes us successful when we’re successful,” Romar said Tuesday afternoon, after less than 48 hours of reflection. “If we understand that and execute that, then we’re going to be fine.”
What carried the Huskies through a 15-4 start to the season, when UW was among the national leaders in scoring but was also giving up just 68.1 points per game, has become a point of re-emphasis this week. After the Cougars wore out the trap-happy Huskies midway through the second half of Sunday’s game, UW lost for the fifth time in nine games. In those losses, the Huskies gave up an average of 78.8 points.
“There are certain defensive (practice) drills that, this time of season, we’re finished with because we already know what we’re supposed to be doing,” senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning said, referring to drills that the Huskies are working on this week.
“We’re just focusing on that, and things have picked up a little bit more. We’re working a little bit harder than we have in the past.”
The easiest explanation for UW’s defensive fade is a lack of focus. The high-scoring Huskies could be excused for losing their identity while piling up triple-digit point totals at home during the non-conference season.
But it goes deeper than that.
Romar theorized Tuesday that he might be giving too many minutes to too many players — due in part to a lack of depth created by injuries to starting point guard Abdul Gaddy and fill-in starter Scott Suggs. The coach played the part of scapegoat, pointing the finger at himself when asked why the defensive performances have fallen off.
“Playing defense is not easy at all,” Holiday said. “It takes a certain amount of effort and focus to be able to do that. The reason we’ve been so good in the past is that we really focus on defense. It’s just going to take a lot of focus from the players.”
The wiry Holiday was considered a defensive stopper as a junior, but his added roles as the team’s third scoring option and 3-point shooter seem to have slowed his progress on the defensive end this year.
“It makes it harder when you’re playing the game,” Holiday said. “I can get more fatigued in these games than I used to in previous years.”
Part of the problem in Sunday’s game, Romar said, was that the Huskies were hanging their heads on defense after failing to score on the other end. A horrid shooting performance — 8-for-36 from the field — in the first half overshadowed a solid defensive effort and eventually led some of the Huskies to let up on that end of the floor.
“It’s tough for a basketball player when you’re not playing well on the offensive end,” junior guard Isaiah Thomas said. “You tend to take plays off on the defensive end.”
Said Romar: “When we first put our offense in, in September and October, the first thing we talk about is: ‘There are times when we’re not going to be scoring, when it’s not going to go our way. But this is what’s going to sustain us: our defense.’ We’ve addressed that many, many times. But still, subconsciously, that still gets us.”
The Huskies are hoping to get their offensive rhythm back when they play host to UCLA and USC this week. And if they’re going to get that offensive rhythm back, it might have to start on the defensive end of the floor.
“I think a few games back we took a few steps back,” junior Darnell Gant said. “We’re trying to get that back.”