HOOPS: Man, zone & more with WSU's Rod Jensen

EARLY ON, in the opening minutes after the Cougs tip off against Lamar on Saturday night (TV:Pac-12 Networks, 9:30 p.m.) watch closely when the Cougs are on defense. Because if you don't, you might miss it.

Early in a game, assistant coach and defensive guru Rod Jensen tells Cougfan.com, the Cougars will toss out both zone and man defenses. It's a litmus test.

Which one works best against that particular opponent on that particular night dictates what the Cougs will run, although they may still shake things up over the course of the contest.

"It varies, and we've gone in to games and from the film we think this team we can really zone, or really play man… and we have to do the opposite… What we're (ultimately) trying to do here is to keep people off balance," said Jensen.

The new hand-checking rules have already put all of college basketball off balance, having a far and wide impact on multiple facets of the game. But Jensen said that in his mind, they don't favor either a man or a zone defense over the other.

"I don't think we can let us as players let the way the referees call the game allow us to not play hard… but we do have to adjust, we have to learn how not to put our hands on people but keep the same intensity," said Jensen.

THE SHORT TERM effect of the new rules has resulted in players simply putting their heads down and charging the hoop, knowing chances are awfully good they'll draw a foul and get to the line/put themselves in the bonus ultra-early. So how do you solve that on the defensive end? No great mystery there, said Jensen.

"You better move your feet," he said. "The feet are going to be get you in the position to defend. But it's going to take some time because it's been years that we've been able to touch," said Jensen.

JENSEN HAS BEEN KNOWN for his defense over a long coaching career at a number of locales. He spent 18 seasons at Boise State with the last seven as the head man. And he said big changes take time.

The original plan this offseason for the Cougs was to implement additional tenets to the new defense, including full-court and three-quarter defense. That hasn't happened, with the players continuing to get used to on-the-ball pressure and adjusting to the new rules.

"There's never really a definite time plan -- right now we're just trying to get everyone on the same page with the new rules…but I certainly do like the way the guys are progressing … we've got to see how things evolve with what they have in right now (because) we're now playing so different than the last few years -- it's a lot to absorb for them and it takes time," said Jensen.

If the Cougs at some point this season show they're ready for more, whether that's next week or months down the road, then fans will see full- and three-quarters-court pressure. But it's also conceivable that may have to wait – it all depends, said Jensen. And it's difficult not to overstate how the new rules are impacting the game right now.

"I think the rules are having as much impact as the three-point line when they put that in," said Jensen.

SO WHERE DOES Jensen want the Cougs to be defensively by the time they enter the Pac-12 slate as opposed to where they are now, keeping in mind that Washington State has played all of one game this season?

"Doing what we're doing but doing it at a higher level of intensity and togetherness -- our hope is to try and cause some disruption and create some things for ourselves offensively and I don't think we've done that yet. We play team defense and that is us playing as one… we're hoping to create more turnovers and get out in the open court," said Jensen.

And Jensen remains bullish on the prospects this season, in large part because of fit and numbers.

"I think we have not only a group but a large group of players who fit in with what we're trying to do," said Jensen. ‘We're trying to play with a lot of energy and passion -- and you need a deep bench to do that.

"The other thing is you have to have unselfish players willing to do this and that's probably my biggest praise for this group – they play together, hard and unselfish, and carrying over what we're doing on offense to the defensive end."

MEANWHILE, IN LOOKING ahead to practice this season, during all the teaching moments, it's situation-normal going forward for the Cougs.

"We've tried to stay consistent (in practice, teaching), hoping our kids will change with consistency," said Jensen. "Whether that's practice or game situations, we just want to compete and play together. You just have to give up all excuses and do what you're trying to do to the best of your ability.

"And the most important thing to me is how well these guys are buying into what we're doing."

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