Washington Huskies

Huskies’ inability to rebound changed complexion of 2015-16 basketball season

Washington's Marquese Chriss, left, and Oregon State's Tres Tinkle vie for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Corvallis, Ore., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.
Washington's Marquese Chriss, left, and Oregon State's Tres Tinkle vie for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Corvallis, Ore., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. AP

As if losing a first-round NCAA tournament game to Yale last week wasn’t bad enough, Baylor star Taurean Prince was challenged during the postgame press conference with a particularly inane question.

In a confrontational tone, he was asked how Yale, an Ivy League school seeded 12th — though still one of the nation’s top rebounding teams — could outrebound Baylor, a No. 5 seed from a power conference.

Prince’s dry, literal response went viral.

“You go up and grab the ball off the rim when it comes off,” he deadpanned, his words soaked in sarcasm, “and then you grab it with two hands, and you come down with it, and that’s considered a rebound. So, they got more of those than we did.”

Two thoughts here.

One: That’s exactly the kind of answer that question deserved. Good for Prince.

Two: Has anyone shown that clip to the Washington Huskies?

UW’s season ended on Monday with a 93-78 loss at San Diego State in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. The Huskies trailed by 16 points at halftime, trailed by double digits for most of the second half and never challenged in the final minutes despite trimming the margin to five points with eight minutes remaining.

They finish with an overall record of 19-15, which might be better than many expected before the season began — UW was picked by media to finish 11th in the Pac-12 standings, for example, and wound up finishing tied for sixth — but this season will still be remembered for what could have been.

If they’d defended better. If they’d made more 3-pointers. If they’d made better decisions in the open court. But mostly, if they had simply collected a few more defensive rebounds per game.

The Huskies’ inability to prevent opponents from racking up offensive rebounds proved to be their most glaring weakness, a flaw that by itself prevented the Huskies from winning at least three or four more games.

It showed up again on Monday night, when SDSU’s grown men pounded the backboards for 16 offensive rebounds that led to 21 second-chance points. But it was a problem all season.

Forgive the recap if you’ve heard this before, but remember:

Arizona beat Washington in a thrilling, 77-72 contest at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The Huskies shot a higher percentage from the field and committed fewer turnovers. The teams made the same number of 3-pointers and Arizona made only one more free throw than UW. But the Wildcats won because they collected 17 offensive rebounds and scored 21 second-chance points.

Colorado beat Washington, 81-80, in Boulder. The Buffaloes shot slightly better from the field, but the Huskies made more 3-pointers and committed eight fewer turnovers. But Colorado out-rebounded them 55-35, and grabbed 20 offensive rebounds on 41 missed field-goal attempts — and scored 20 second-chance points.

Oregon State beat Washington, 82-81, after the officials missed an obvious traveling violation just before Stephen Thompson Jr.’s buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer. But it would never have come to that if the Huskies hadn’t been outrebounded 41-25, the Beavers turning 15 offensive rebounds into 21 second-chance points.

And in UW’s 83-77 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals, the Ducks grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and scored 17 second-chance points.

That’s four games the Huskies had a legitimate chance to win in spite of themselves. Imagine how different those four games could have been if they’d rebounded just poorly, instead of really, really poorly. According to KenPom.com, the Huskies allowed opponents to rebound 35.7 percent of their own missed field goals. That ranks 338th out of 351 teams. That isn’t good.

The Monday after the Arizona game, UW coach Lorenzo Romar offered an accurate explanation for how Wildcats forward Ryan Anderson finished with 15 rebounds. But it could have applied to many other UW games.

“They just kind of willed their way to some rebounds and were able to get the ball,” Romar said. “They ended up with a lot of offensive rebounds, but one guy had eight of them. He just was determined to go get that basketball.”

Romar answered questions all season about his team’s confounding inability to, as Prince put it, go up and grab the ball off the rim. The Huskies’ youth likely had something to do with it. It was noted a few times that some players relied too often on their athleticism — nobody could outjump them in high school — instead of instinctively putting a body on the opponent when a shot goes up. And maybe UW’s switching defense made it more difficult for players to match up.

The Huskies’ frontcourt players aren’t the tallest in the Pac-12, but they aren’t short. Marquese Chriss and Malik Dime are 6-foot-9. Noah Dickerson is 6-8. Yet UW’s leading rebounders this season were Andrew Andrews and Dejounte Murray, the team’s starting guards.

Help is on the way. Sam Timmins, a 6-10, 275-pound center from New Zealand, and Matthew Atewe, a 6-8, 240-pound transfer from Auburn, will each be eligible in 2016-17 and will be relied upon to help reverse those troubling rebounding numbers. Maybe the extra bulk will make the difference between the NIT and the Big Dance.

Or maybe the Huskies simply need to listen to Prince, and decide that they’re going to be the ones to go up and grab the ball with two hands when it comes off the rim.

Because their opponents got a lot more of those than the Huskies did.

Christian Caple: 253-597-8437, @ChristianCaple