By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE (AP) – Even in the past when they were pretty good defensively, the fast-paced athleticism the Washington Huskies showed at the offensive end always got the attention.
It’s easy for defense to get overshadowed when future NBA players like Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Quincy Pondexter, Spencer Hawes, Isaiah Thomas and Terrence Ross are cycling through your program.
But the reason Washington has turned around a stumbling start this season and won 10 of its last 12 games is because of the effort and improvement being made on the defensive end. After Wednesday night’s 64-54 win over Colorado, the Huskies improved to 4-0 in the Pac-12 and are allowing just 56 points per game in conference play.
Granted it’s still early and the Huskies have yet to see any of the ranked Pac-12 squads – Arizona, Oregon and UCLA – but coach Lorenzo Romar has his team on pace to be the finest defensive squad in his tenure.
“It’s both our attitude and us figuring things out,” Washington guard Abdul Gaddy said. “We take pride in our defense, we don’t like when people score on us. We’re really starting to gel, which is the main thing.”
Romar has preached defense since coming to Washington and it has often been a struggle. Yet this group has figured out the principles needed to be successful at that end.
For the season, the Huskies are giving up 64.9 points per game, which would be the lowest in Romar’s tenure by nearly five points. Teams are shooting just 41 percent and only 37 percent in Washington’s four conference games thus far. The Huskies have held seven of their last nine opponents under 40 percent shooting. They’ve accomplished that in each of their first four conference games, only the second time under Romar that the Huskies have held four straight opponents under the 40 percent mark.
Now in his 11th season, Romar has never had a team that has allowed less than 66 points per game in Pac-12 play or lower than 42 percent shooting. Even in their best seasons, when Washington reached the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament – 2005, 2006 and 2010 – the Huskies still allowed around 70 points per game.
It might be a little ugly as compared to Washington teams of the past, but Romar doesn’t mind.
“You can color it any way you want to color it,” Romar said. “I just know that when you go out and you play two games in a row and you have single digit turnovers, you hold four teams to under 40 percent from the field, you outrebound three out of the four, you’re beginning to do things right.”
The defensive improvement this year has many layers and much of it starts at the other end of the floor. Washington made the transition in the offseason to using a high-post offense as its primary set. It was very choppy at the beginning of the season, to where Romar reverted to the motion offense for stretches, but has become more efficient of late. The net result of running an offense that requires more passing, more precision, is that the Huskies are putting up fewer shots and running more of the clock.
Washington is attempting seven fewer shots per game compared to last season. In turn, games are played at a slower pace and they are defending for fewer possessions.
Additionally, the Huskies have figured out how to use their length to cause defensive headaches. The Huskies will never be mistaken for a team filled with towering bodies, but guards C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6, respectively, with long arms and the ability to make passing lanes shrink.
Then there is 7-footer Aziz N’Diaye in the back. N’Diaye has improved his lateral speed and become very good at coming from the opposite side of the lane to alter shots. N’Diaye has 10 blocks in the last four games and he’s stayed away from foul trouble.
“We always knew we could play good defense, and we came into the season saying that that is what we needed to do,” Wilcox said. “It just took some time to get through our heads that that is what we needed to do and we’re starting to learn that, and get better game by game.”
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