The Washington Huskies scored 107 points in their last basketball game.
The Washington Huskies will not score 107 points in their next basketball game.
Their second-round National Invitation Tournament matchup at San Diego State at 5:30 p.m. Monday night will not only represent one of UW’s more difficult road ventures this season. It will also likely prove to be the biggest test of the year for the Huskies’ offense, because the Aztecs play defense better than anyone in the Pac-12 and better than most in the nation.
According to KenPom.com, San Diego State leads the country in effective defensive field-goal percentage and ranks second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. SDSU also leads the nation in field-goal percentage defense at 36.9, holds opponents to just 30.0 percent shooting from 3-point range and allows an average of just 60.1 points per game.
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Those numbers might remind of last season’s contest between these teams, a 49-36 Huskies victory in Seattle on Dec. 7, 2014.
It was an ugly, slow game in which the Aztecs made only 20.4 percent of their field-goal attempts, and so the Huskies won by 13 points despite shooting only 37.5 percent from the field themselves.
If Monday’s game has a similar feel, it likely won’t be to the Huskies’ favor. They play much faster now than they did then, and San Diego State is still the kind of team that forces opponents to settle into their halfcourt offense and work harder than usual for clean looks at the basket.
“We’re going to always try to force tempo,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “But every time we don’t set a screen, if we don’t come off of a screen hard, if we don’t have the proper angle on a screen, if we drive to the basket halfheartedly and we’re not aggressive, it’ll be really rough for us to score. We have to make sure that we’re efficient on offense.”
Romar noted that he often runs into SDSU’s coaching staff when recruiting, because both teams tend to pursue similar players – those with long limbs and remarkable athleticism.
The Huskies (19-14) use those players to force turnovers and then push a fast tempo offensively. San Diego State (26-9) does a far better job protecting the basket, even if it doesn’t emphasize steals and turnovers the same way as UW.
“They’ve got some guys that have been in that system and have played that defense and they know it like the back of their hand,” Romar said. “And that makes them really good defensively.”
Still, UW must try to establish its own tempo, and ideally score in transition to prevent SDSU from setting up in the halfcourt.
“We know their strength is defense, but on the other end, we know that one of our strengths is our offense,” UW senior guard Andrew Andrews said. “So I think it will be a battle of trying to push the pace, making them play a fast-paced game so we can get out in transition.”
Another area in which the Aztecs excel: offensive rebounding. And preventing offensive rebounds is Washington’s biggest weakness.
San Diego State rebounds 33.4 percent of its own misses, a figure that ranks 55th nationally, per KenPom. And the Huskies allow opponents to grab 35.6 percent of their own misses, a figure that ranks 348th.
It was a problem for UW all season, and perhaps the primary reason why the Huskies are playing in the NIT instead of the NCAA tournament. And while the Aztecs are not a stellar offensive team, they will become one if UW continues to allow second-chance points.
“You have to box out, because those guys are relentless on the boards,” Romar said. “Their starting lineup right now, the smallest guy is 6-4, then they’re 6-6, 6-8, 6-9. They’re very long, athletic and ferocious on those offensive boards.”