Special Guest Writer Reggie Geary
Special thanks to the best defender in Arizona basketball history for writing this piece for us
The other night I received a call from PointGuardU.com asking me to write a short article on how to defend the Washington Huskies. My initial response was to have UofA security lock them in their dressing room before the game. Defending Washington is no easy task, especially when you take into account the fact that Head Coach Lorenzo Romar has never seen a shot by one of his players that he objected to. Having said that, I’ve decided to come up with the few ideas that I feel could help.
The first order of business is slowing down junior point guard Isaiah Thomas, leader of Washington’s run and gun style. Isaiah had 22 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds in the Huskies’ 85-68 win last month over the Cats. The Huskies live off of creating a style of play that leads to run outs, transition 3’s, and having the ball in Isaiah’s hands to make plays. This type of offense has Washington sitting on top in scoring in the Pac-10 at 85.9 and 2nd overall in the nation. Arizona needs to throw a number of fresh defenders at Isaiah to harass, push, and chase him wherever he goes. Isaiah is as good a pick-n-roll player as you’ll find in the league. Showing him one defensive look all game is a recipe for disaster. Arizona should mix it up and show him double teams, hard shows by their posts, and maybe even force him away from the screen in an attempt to corral him on one side of the floor. Isaiah cannot account for 42 points, roughly half, like he did in the first game if the Cats want to be victorious. Stopping him might not be possible, but making life on the court more difficult is a necessity.
Secondly, Arizona must limit Washington to one shot. The Huskies have a size advantage with Matt Bryan-Amaning and Aziz N’Diaye manning the middle. In the first meeting, they had 12 offensive boards collectively as a team on 31 missed shots. Arizona guards (5 players) in comparison accounted for 6 rebounds! Guard rebounding is huge, especially when your team is a little undersized. Nothing is more demoralizing to a team and a raucous McKale Center crowd than points being produced on second and third shots by the opponent. Washington leads the Pac-10 in 3pt attempts per game, and I can hear Head Coach Sean Miller, like coaches all over the country, reminding the team of the old adage, “long shots equal long rebounds.” Bottom line: Derrick Williams needs help and the guards could play a major factor in this area.
Lastly, Arizona’s biggest defensive weapon might be its… wait for it…. Offense! Arizona’s best chance to win this game will depend on how well they control their own offensive tempo. I am not asking our very talented and explosive Wildcat team to go the way of our unwatchable rivals in Tempe, or to the bleeding of the clock on every possession style of Oregon St. I am saying that when the Huskies attempt to take the game’s tempo into turbo charge, Arizona must resist the urge to answer every Washington quick 3 and mad dash to the hoop with one of their own. This task is easier said than done. The Huskies play a wide open style where no shot is too quick and, honestly, kids like playing in these types of games. Arizona has improved this season by focusing on a balanced offense that consists of player and ball movement. This is where the focus must remain.
If we take a quick look at the numbers we’ll see the danger in these types of games. Washington has scored more then 90 points nine times on the year, Arizona only 3 times and one of those games they needed triple overtime. In games where Arizona reached 85 points, they’re 15-0! Games in which the Huskies have lost they’ve average 67 points per game. That is 19 points lower than their team average. If Arizona wants to win this game, then they’re going to have to keep the number of possessions for each team down, as well as the score.
In conclusion, Arizona would be smart to let the Huskies be their own worst enemy. Playing at the break neck speed they do leads to questionable decision making, bad passes, and low percentage shots. Arizona must avoid this trap! If the game looks like a soccer game with players running and the ball flying all over the place, I feel it will be to Washington’s advantage. Patience will win the day…and a hand in Isaiah Thomas’ face from time to time wouldn’t hurt either.