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Washington’s defensive issues continue against Stanford

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Washington’s defensive issues continue

Teammates Nate Roberts and Raequan Battle contest a shot in Washington's 80-53 loss against Arizona at Alaska Airlines Arena on December 31, 2020.

It was a long night defensively for the Washington men’s basketball team, who dropped their fifth straight game in a 91-75 loss to Stanford.

The Huskies (1-8, 0-4 Pac-12), who have allowed over 90 points in two of the past three games, had immense trouble keeping the Cardinal’s potent frontcourt from the basket. Allowing 50 points in the paint, Stanford seemed to have little trouble penetrating and finding the gaps in Washington’s 2-3 zone defense, to the dismay of head coach Mike Hopkins. 

“We’ve got to be better in the interior defensively,” he said. “We’re just getting torched in there… We’ve got to have some type of force in the paint where teams are going to have trouble scoring in there. Right now they’re scoring at will.”

On that note, Stanford converted more than 50% of their field goals, shooting 34-of-66 while attempting just 17 three-pointers. Moreover, Washington was battered on the glass, getting outrebounded by a margin of 16.

The Huskies, who managed to force 22 turnovers, had some success in the second half after resorting to full court pressure in a desperate attempt to work their way back in the game, but the success eventually proved to be short-lived as the Cardinal roared back (7-3, 3-1 Pac-12).

“I thought [the press] was really good,” Hopkins said. “We turned them over for the first four or five possessions, then they scored on five or six possessions … so we probably should have gone back and changed it up.”

Questions raised by the Huskies’ shot selection

It is no secret that points have often been hard to come by for this Washington team that is hovering around the conference’s bottom in offensive production. In particular, the Huskies rank last in the Pac-12 in three-point percentage, shooting at just a 24.3% clip. 

With that being said, Washington’s shot selection in Thursday night’s loss to Stanford raised legitimate questions as to the soundness of the team’s offensive attack. In the first half, 15 of the Huskies’ 28 field goal attempts came from beyond the arc, yet the team tied a season-low with just 21 points in a half. 

While both Washington players and coaches have emphasized the importance of attacking the basket in weeks past, it appears as if the Huskies’ opponents are packing the paint and simply daring UW to shoot.

“For some reason we’re having trouble making shots early,” Hopkins said. “I felt like Stanford was going to take away the paint. They’ve seen our shooting percentages so they made it very difficult to get in there.”

Though Washington had a number of open chances along the perimeter, they shot just 26.7% from three-point territory on the night. As by-products of the Huskies’ deluge of long-distance attempts in the first half, the Huskies got to the free throw line just once and scored just six points in the paint. 

However, Washington’s offense seemed to come alive at times in the second half as the game’s pace of play increased dramatically. While continuing to struggle from the perimeter, the Huskies attacked Stanford’s defense a bit more in the game’s final 20 minutes, enabling the team to shoot over 40% from the field while attempting 20 free throws. 

Moving forward, it will be a necessity for Hopkins and the Huskies to generate some sense of offensive balance. Otherwise, opposing teams will be able to continue to allocate the majority of their energy to blocking driving lanes while living with the consequences of an onslaught of Washington three-point attempts, which have been minimal to this point in the season.

Reach reporter James Price at Twitter: @_jamesprice_

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