Asked Tuesday to evaluate Washington’s moribund defense, coach Lorenzo Romar stood up from his chair and bent over into a perfect defensive stance, mimicking the way the Huskies played in the first half against then-No. 10 Connecticut. About 13 minutes into the Dec. 22 game in Seattle, UW led 31-17.
“When we were dialed in, and we were all on the same page, I thought our defense was really good,” Romar said. “I thought it was exceptional.”
“As we began to lose focus a little bit, now instead of being here on defense,” he said, leaving his crouch and standing straight up, casually shifting weight from one foot to the other, “we’re kind of here as the game goes on.”
UW (8-5) is allowing opponents to shoot almost 50 percent from the field, often employing a starting lineup with four players 6-foot-5 or shorter.
“The disadvantage is protecting the rim. People are driving,” Romar said of his four-guard lineup. “When someone has size, sometimes you can do all you want, they throw over the top, you can’t reach up there.”
The Huskies had a rough second half against UConn, getting outscored 39-31 on their way to an 82-70 loss. They failed to contain UConn’s backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, the pair combining for 36 points.
It was the highest-ranked opponent the Huskies faced during the non-conference slate, and a preview of one of the challenges as they open the Pac-12 schedule Thursday at Arizona State (11-2) and Saturday at No. 1 Arizona (13-0).
The Sun Devils present matchup issues for most teams because of guard Jahii Carson and 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski.
“Kind of the big and the small of it, and everything else in between,” Romar said. “Obviously, Jahii Carson is a dynamite point guard. He scored 34 in this building last year so we know what he’s capable of doing.”
Carson, a redshirt sophomore, is averaging 19.3 points and about five assists a game running coach Herb Sendek’s offense. He’s also shooting nearly 20 percent better from beyond the arc compared to a year ago.
An ultra-quick playmaker who benefits as much as any player from the new NCAA rules banning a defender from using hand-checks and arm-bars, Carson has earned the nickname “Jahiisius” from ASU fans.
In November, Carson scored 40 in a win over UNLV.
“When you have someone who can score the ball and distribute like he does and is so quick to get in the lane and create havoc, he’s a tough cover,” Romar said.
So is Bachynski.
The 248-pound senior from Calgary is averaging 12.5 points and 9.8 rebounds.
“There’s a reason they are doing a good job defensively,” Romar said. “He really protects the rim. He really protects it. You could see it coming the last couple of years, but I think this year he’s gotten to a point where they throw him the ball, and he’s going to get something positive out of it.”
Mustering positives from an opening trip that Romar considers to be among the toughest in the conference should be a challenge, too. Arizona holds the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll.
“Wow. Murderer’s row this year. You start talking earlier about those road trips, those are some killers out there,” Romar said. “Just not a whole lot of weak links in the conference. Our league is much improved.”
The Huskies’ interior defense should benefit from the return to full health of Desmond Simmons, the forward who missed the first six weeks of the season following arthroscopic knee surgery.
Simmons has rebounded well and helped on defense in three games since returning, Romar said. However, the 6-foot-7 junior is averaging about 14 minutes a contest. That number should increase significantly this week.
“Each week is huge when you’re coming back from arthroscopic surgery,” Romar said. “I think we’re probably there. As the game presents itself, he could get more minutes.”