Q&A: All things D with WSU’s Silvey Dominguez

WASHINGTON STATE already this season has exceeded win-loss expectations in men’s basketball – but the Cougar D has been a far different story. How does Ernie Kent turn it around, what’s most in need of fixing and where has the 1-2-2 matchup zone been? CF.C recently held a wide-ranging Q&A session on that and more with the architect behind the Cougs’ defense: assistant coach Silvey Dominguez.

Cougfan.com: What is your assessment of how the Cougars are doing on defense?

Silvey Dominguez: Well, if you look at our statistics, we have a lot of work to do. We have got to improve in two areas quite significantly. And one would be on the ball defense, keeping guys in front of us and not allowing them to get into the paint and into scoring opportunities… And number two would be our off the ball defense -- where we are two passes away and we have to be in a help position and recognize where the ball is at and where we need to position ourselves. Those are things that we have got to improve on probably most… as well as just knowing the scouting report.

Cougfan.com: What do you think are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the defense?

Dominguez: Statistically, we are giving up, I think, the most points in the league (75.8). We have not done well from that end of it. Our 3-point field goal percentage defense is not where we would like it to be. But when we follow our game plan, and we really understand where we need to be on the floor, and we know how to play each person per person, we could have really great team defense right now. We will play well (as in Cal and UW wins) and it took some great defensive effort in part and I think the majority of that was recognition of personnel and staying with the game plan.

Cougfan.com: You are known for your 1-2-2 matchup zone defense, is that what you are building the Cougars defense around?

Dominguez: We have played the majority of the season man-to-man… When you come in and you put in a new system, put in a new philosophy… it takes time to make those guys understand the philosophy, understand the positioning, understanding the commitment and understand why you are making that change to fully engage in that type of situation… It’s getting better, we have improved each and every week. Obviously our record is I think better than most people would have anticipated that we are at in this point in time. However, we have won close games, but when we have lost we have not been very close… We don’t want to play on the two extremes; we want to play more in the middle so that we have a chance to win each and every game.

Cougfan.com: What percentage of the time are the Cougars defending with zone and with man-to-man?

Dominguez: Each game is different. For example, when we started the conference play, Stanford and Cal (and UW and Oregon) were all man-to-man defense. Oregon State was a combination, but it probably was 80-percent man, 20-percent zone. Utah was probably 50/50 man and zone and then Colorado, we started out in a zone defense because they had done so poorly against Washington… and ended up playing probably 30 percent zone and 70 percent man.

Cougfan.com: Who has impressed you most on defense?

Dominguez: Well, it has really been a number of guys. Ike (Iroegbu) is a great defender, could probably be our best defender. He’s got great speed, he’s got great quickness, he’s strong. However, when he doesn’t lock in and really understand who he is guarding then he can also have some problems. But he has the potential to be our best defender. I think Brett Boese has been really smart in knowing how to play guys when we have given him the scouting report. His effort is outstanding. Sometimes he will commit mistakes because of commission: he commits himself to doing it as hard as he can, you can’t take that away from him. Dexter (Kernich-Drew) has the ability to be a good defender because of his length… it’s really been an up and down situation for each and every one of them. At Cal, DaVonte Lacy may have been our best defender that night.

Cougfan.com: What kinds of changes or adjustments did you make going into Pac-12 play from non-conference play?

Dominguez: When you get into Pac-12, it becomes… knowing the personnel, playing the personnel. So if one guy is just a catch and shoot player, you don’t really worry about the plays, you just worry about ‘How am I going to guard that guy?’. As well as if a guy is a driver… so I have got to know how to keep him in front and give him some gap. Is he a right hand driver? Is he a left hand driver? Does he like to drive right and spin left? Same with post guys. What is their favorite move? You have got to, I can’t say it enough, it’s all personnel driven. But on occasion you may find yourself being a little more successful in the zone than you are the man depending on the team’s shooting ability or drivability.

Cougfan.com: What do you think is the most important element for the success of this defense?

Dominguez: I think it’s a commitment on each kid’s part. I would put that far and above footwork... speed (or) IQ. I think that is the number one thing: your commitment to wanting to be a great defender. Because, see, on defense you can be selfish defensively. You can guard, you can rebound, you can block out and that’s just you. On offense, you have got to be more of a team player. Now granted, you have to have team defense. But if every kid had the mentality that ‘I’m going to take care of my guy’, well then you’re not going to give up very many scoring opportunities.

Cougfan.com: What kinds of drills do you run in practice to help players learn and improve the defense?

Dominguez: We do a lot of one-on-one drills. We’ll do some two-on-two drills. Transition is very big for us, so we will do a lot of up and down the floor transition drills… And so you have two possessions of guarding that end of it. We will do some shell drills, with our technique, stance and position. We like to do that a few times a week, and then we will actually just guard the opponent’s sets. So we understand how we are going to guard the ball screen, how are we going to guard the back screen, how are we going to guard the post… Some guys are great drill guys, and can’t do what you want to do during the game so you have to find that really good mix of what your team is better at, how they learn. Do they learn in the contact five-on-five? Do they learn in the drill? Do they visually watching a video, or is it a combination of all those things?

Cougfan.com: What are your priorities heading into the final stretch of the season?

Dominguez: I think as a team we have got to really improve in contesting shots and not allowing second shots… If you look at the stats sheet at the end of the game, you will see second chance points… points off of fast breaks, points off of turnovers, and if you can eliminate those and play a clean game in those areas, you are going to do well. But you have got to contest shots, because statistically, if you contest a shot a person is going to shoot 15 percent less than an uncontested shot. That’s number one. Number two is the block out and the rebound… You will win a lot of games if you are only giving up one score in three possessions.

Cougfan.com: Coming to this program at WSU what did you identify as the biggest area in need of improvement and how has that changed?

Dominguez: I don’t think anything has changed. If you look at last year’s stats, Washington State was at the bottom of most defensive stats and right now we may not be at the bottom but we are still in the lower half. We have got to improve. And it’s got to be something we get better at each and every week… Everyone always says we have to improve 100 percent, that’s hard to do. But if you can improvement one percent every day from the start of the season – and we have made improvements. I can’t tell you the percentage, but we have improved. We are not the same team we were in November.

Cougfan.com: What are you going to be looking for the new recruiting class to bring to the table defensively?

Dominguez: Well we are looking for guys that are committed, guys that are engaged… want to take pride and make it a statement. And where can we hang our hat on? Are we a great offensive team? Are we a great shooting team? Are we a great defensive team? We have got to get an equal balance because we want to play fast. Offense is a high priority to score a lot of points but you can do both of them… We don’t quite have the balance that we would like to have at this point… but hopefully by the time we get to the Pac-12 tournament we are a much improved team… And then anything can happen at the tournament.

Cougfan.com: You and Coach Kent coached together at St. Mary’s and built up a great team defensively there. How has that experience translated to taking over the program at WSU?

Dominguez: Coach Kent talks about the blueprint all the time, and we have a blue print… What our guys have got to be able to do is understand what we are trying to do to get from point A to point B and have that success. At St. Mary’s we took a program that was at the bottom of the league, and every year got better. And he did the same thing at Oregon. The blueprint - there are a number of things we talk to the kids about all the time: being a great team player, being unselfish, enjoying the success of your teammates, do the ‘next right thing’ right because a lot of times guys don’t… It’s going to take time. It’s difficult because the league is at such a high level, you just can’t jump up that fast. You have got to build the process.

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