The last time the Cougs and Dawgs met, it wasn’t pretty for Wazzu fans. UW came out focused and determined to break the streak of seven victories WSU held over them. They pulled away in the second half en route to a 68-48 victory. This final score was a bit inflated due to some late game fouling and desperation turnovers, but UW was definitely in control.
So what can be done to make up those 20 points plus one for the victory? Two stats stand out from that game, and they are both on the defensive end.
Thanks in large part to a 6 of 11 showing from downtown, UW was able to post a 53.9 eFG%. That is well above the Coug’s season average allowed of 44.8%. This becomes really disturbing when you take a look at what UW was able to do when they weren’t making shots.
The Huskies crashed the offensive glass to the tune of a 45.1 offensive rebounding percentage. To put that in perspective, the Cougs lead the nation in defensive rebounding percentage and on average allow offensive rebounds at a 24.6% clip. It wasn’t Jon Brockman doing all the damage either, as he was limited to four total rebounds and two on offense, this was a total team effort.
So did the Cougs put forth a lazy effort? Were they skimping on the hustle plays by not boxing out or closing on shooters? Maybe, but the root cause of these breakdowns can be summed up in two proper nouns.
This guy is good. He is super quick, has great body control, and shoots just well enough from the outside to keep the defender honest. In the initial meeting, he started off by nailing several long jumpers in the first half. He eventually went cold from outside, but the defense still had to play up on him because the threat to shoot was there. This led to easy penetration, which as we know leads to help defense. Help defense leaves guys free to shoot wide-open threes and attack the boards. Hence, the absurdly high OR% and eFG% numbers.
So what has changed since then that will make a difference? Marcus Capers. His minutes have increased dramatically. He moves well laterally and can keep Thomas in front, but if and when Thomas does get by, Marcus has the length to make up for it. Marcus only played six minutes in the Pac 10 opener. He will be in the starting lineup on Saturday. My hope is that Tony sticks Klay on Pondexter, Taylor on Dentmon, and Marcus on Thomas. We have seen in the past how a lengthy skilled defender (Kyle Weaver) can bother smaller guards. Marcus seems to be Kyle 2.0 on the defensive side, but with the potential to be even better because of his athleticism.
I’m a firm believer in length being the cure all on the defensive end. Nothing beats a hand in the face of the offensive player when they are trying to shoot or pass. If Marcus can bother Isaiah enough to force bad passes, that will give defenders more time to close out on shooters. Better yet, if Marcus can just keep him out of the lane altogether, everyone can just stay home and those open looks and offensive rebounds can be minimized.
It is easier said than done, but we need a solid defensive effort from the defender on Isaiah Thomas this weekend. The man who has the best chance of doing this is Marcus. Shut down Isaiah and the rest of the team will struggle. Remember, the rest of them are mostly that underachieving bunch that struggled for the last two years.