In order to end their three-game losing streak and enhance their uncertain NCAA tournament hopes with a dangerous California team visiting Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Thursday night, the Washington Huskies must rebound.
As in, they have to bounce back from a rough road trip that resulted in losses at both Utah and Colorado. And they have to, you know, rebound, like when the other team shoots the ball and misses.
Washington controlled precious few rebound opportunities in an 81-80 loss at Colorado on Saturday, allowing the Buffaloes to repossess 20 of their 41 misses. That’s a staggering offensive rebound percentage, and it’s become something of a trend for the Huskies as they’ve navigated the conference schedule.
The Huskies (15-10, 7-6 Pac-12) are, statistically, the worst defensive rebounding team in the Pac-12, and are among the worst in the country. Through 25 games, they have rebounded only 64.0 percent of their opponents’ misses — meaning that UW opponents have an offensive rebounding percentage of 36.0, a figure that ranks 341st in the country (out of 351 teams), according to KenPom.com.
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Washington is also a pretty good offensive rebounding team in its own right — the Huskies rebound 35.5 percent of their own misses, good for second in the league — but its inability to hold opponents to one shot per possession has cost it in recent games.
For example: Colorado outrebounded the Huskies 55-35 on Saturday in Boulder, and still only won by a single point. Wesley Gordon had 13 total rebounds and eight offensive boards. Arizona had 17 offensive rebounds and 21 second-chance points in a 77-72 victory at Hec Ed on Feb. 6. Ryan Anderson had 15 total rebounds and eight offensive boards. It’s not hard to envision the Huskies winning either of those games if they’d simply put a body on those players even two or three more times than they did.
That’s why, as they prepare for the final five games of the regular season, UW coach Lorenzo Romar says his team’s potential improvement hinges only on “a few things getting a little better.”
Rebounding is one of them. And some of those issues, Romar said, have resulted from UW’s inability to prevent dribble penetration, which subsequently gums up the Huskies’ entire defensive operation.
“We have to keep people in front of us,” Romar said Wednesday. “When there’s penetration, people get to the rim on us, which a lot of teams try to do because of our pressure. That causes us to come over and try to block shots. That causes rotations. That causes other teams to get on the boards, (and) they get offensive rebounds.”
Part of the problem is UW’s youth. The Huskies start four freshmen and regularly play six, and it isn’t always easy for first-year players to immediately master even basic fundamentals — such as boxing out on every single shot attempt — at the college level. That’s especially true of players who have always been able to win individual battles with pure athleticism alone.
“At times, I think we kind of rely on how high we jump and our athleticism instead of putting a body on someone,” said freshman forward Marquese Chriss, who led the Huskies with 10 rebounds against Colorado. “I think we have to transition from trying to beat somebody to the ball, to keeping them from getting to the ball at all. And boxing out and then go meet the ball instead of trying to out-jump everyone.”
Senior guard Andrew Andrews offered a similar explanation: “We’re relying too much on our athleticism instead of just the principle of hitting your man and going and getting the ball.”
Cal (17-8, 7-5) has the necessary size to exploit UW’s offensive glass shortcomings if the Huskies don’t clean it up. The Golden Bears — winners of five of their last seven games — rank fifth in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding percentage, and their roster features three players 6-foot-11 or taller. That includes 6-11 freshman Ivan Rabb, the Pac-12’s seventh-best offensive rebounder at 2.6 per game.
Most NCAA tournament projections have the Huskies on the wrong side of the bubble, meaning they badly need a sweep this weekend of Cal and Stanford to better position themselves for an at-large berth.
It can be done, Romar said. But not if the Huskies don’t improve.
“We’re not approaching our team like ‘This is a disaster. What’s going on here? The critics!’ ” Romar said. “That’s not how we’re approaching our team. We’re talking about, ‘fellas, if we can get a little better here, and just a little better here, we’re going to be just fine.’ That’s kind of how we’re looking at this.”
California (17-8, 7-5 Pac-12) at UW (15-10, 7-6)
8 p.m., Hec Edmundson Pavilion
TV: Fox Sports 1. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM
All-time series: California leads, 82-78.
PROJECTED STARTERS (statistics for 2015-16):
2 Sam Singer, G (6-4, Jr.): 4.0 ppg, 3.0 apg
23 Jabari Bird, G (6-6, Jr.): 9.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg
0 Jaylen Brown, F (6-7, Fr.): 15.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg
1 Ivan Rabb, F (6-11, Fr.): 12.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg
22 Kingsley Okoroh, C (7-1, So.): 1.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg
12 Andrew Andrews, G (6-2,RSr.): 20.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.6 apg
5 Dejounte Murray, G (6-4.5, Fr.): 14.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.6 apg
4 Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, Fr.): 6.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg
15 Noah Dickerson, F (6-8, Fr.): 8.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg
0 Marquese Chriss, F (6-9, Fr.): 13.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg
Scouting report: California is one of the hottest teams in the conference. Last week, the Golden Bears swept Oregon and Oregon State in the Bay Area, and they’ve won five of their last seven games but they’ve still won only one game outside of their home arena this season, and that was a 78-72 overtime victory at Wyoming on Dec. 5. Cal is 0-5 in Pac-12 road games. … Junior guard Jabari Bird, a former five-star recruit whom the Huskies recruited aggressively, averaged 23.5 points and made 9 of 16 from 3-point range in Cal’s two victories last week. … It’s possible that Cal might start senior guard Tyrone Wallace, who returned two games ago from a hand injury that kept him out of five games. Wallace averages 15.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. … Brown is one of the most difficult players to guard in the Pac-12. He was perhaps the most heralded recruit in the entire 2015 class, and is projected by some outlets as a top-5 pick in this summer’s NBA draft. UW coach Lorenzo Romar described him as “an athletic locomotive,” and at 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, he looks the part. Brown ranks 12th in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, per KenPom.com. … Cal has the No. 1 field-goal percentage defense in the Pac-12. The Bears allow opponents to shoot only 39.2 percent from the field. They’re the only team in the conference currently holding opponents below 40 percent shooting. … Jordan Mathews, a junior guard who has started 18 games this season, averages 13.2 points per game and ranks third in the Pac-12 with a 45.2 percent clip from 3-point range.