Hoops Preview - Arizona State

SEATTLE - Washington leads the league in offense, yet it'll be their defense that could end up being the focus Saturday when the No. 20 Huskies host Arizona State at 1 pm PST at Alaska Airlines Arena. The game could end up being a contest between two different styles of defense using the same basic principle - the zone.

The game will be shown on Fox Sports Net, including Fox Sports Northwest, as well as through the IMG Radio Network.

For years, UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar preferred stifling man-to-man pressure as his defense of choice. But the use of what Romar termed a 'basic junior high' 2-3 zone at times during the 2010-11 season has really given the Huskies defensive presence a different dimension, especially when big men Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Aziz N'Diaye are in there. Their length can really cause difficulties for teams trying to get to the rim.

"This year because of the makeup of our team, we just haven't had this size before," Romar said Friday. "We haven't had this length before on the wings. We decided before the season started, let's make sure that we're good enough in zone that we can use it."

"I think Romar just wanted to pressure teams all the time and get after them and will ourselves upon them," Justin Holiday said Friday as the Huskies got ready to prepare for the Sun Devils and their own zone, a unique 3-2 extended zone that has been a staple of Sun Devils Head Coach Herb Sendek since Sendek moved from North Carolina State to Tempe back in 2006. But Holiday isn't picky; he'll do whatever it takes to keep UW (14-4, 6-1) used to their winning ways.

"It doesn't really matter what defense we play; I'm all for whatever defense that works," he said.  "So if the zone helps us with winning the game, I'm all good with that.  People may not think that we can get steals, or things like that, but yes we can.  We just need to be smart.  And I think the zone helps us out a lot when we can pack it in against teams that don't shoot it as well.  And it helps with getting a little rest for guys."

Arizona State (9-9, 1-5) will probably need to get as much rest for their guys as they can, as they are without three of their scholarshipped newcomers - Carrick Felix, Brandon Dunson and Chanse Creekmur. Felix and Dunson didn't make the Washington trip due to the flu, while Creekmur is dealing with a death in the family. The loss of Felix hurts the most for Sendek and the Sun Devils, as he had averaged 31.2 minutes and 13.6 points the last five games. Felix, a former teammate of UW's N'Diaye at the College of Southern Idaho, earned high praise from Romar on Friday.

"He's as athletic as anyone in the country," Romar said of Felix. "He's a big-time athlete."

A depleted squad means ASU will rely on their heavy hitters - Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks, Jamelle MacMillan and Trent Lockett. The four combined for 43 of the Sun Devils' 61 points in a 17-point loss to Washington State Thursday in Pullman. Abbott and Kuksiks, in particular, will try and keep the game close with their prolific three-point shooting. They were a combined 8-14 against the Cougars, and they'll have to be at least that good on Saturday, because there's no one to really back them up when it comes to providing instant offense. The rest of their team shot 2-15 from deep, but that won't stop ASU from shooting threes. They like to do it.

It's been famine for ASU offensively since the beginning of Pac-10 play; their biggest scoring output is 69 points, with a low of 41 against Stanford in Tempe.

But it's going up against that trademark 3-2 zone that will prove to be the tale of the tape for Washington. "They can mix their zone," Romar said. "Sometimes it appears there aren't any passing options, but yet they're applying pressure. They have an ability to extend their zone and really get after you where you feel you have to go somewhere and make a play, but yet they're covering up for each other. They move quickly. It seems like there's seven of them out there at times."

The 'X' factor in combating Sendek's zone will be the play of UW guard Isaiah Thomas. The 5-foot-9 junior guard just became the first player in Washington history to have back-to-back double-digit games in assists. Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller couldn't say enough good things about Thomas and his 22-point, 11-assist performance against the Wildcats on Thursday, calling Thomas the most disrespected player in America.

Thomas really makes that team better," Miller said Thursday.  "I have a hard time imagining that there are five better point guards in the country than Isaiah Thomas."

How Thomas does in finding the creases and seams in the zone is crucial; it will force ASU to sag in on him and Thomas will be able to either draw contact and get point from the foul line, or find open teammates for good looks.

Thomas knows that his play of late has put the proverbial target on his back. "I'm all for it," he said Friday.  "Bring what you want.  We've got so much talent on this team that you can try and stop me, but others are going to have good games.  I'm ready for it, though.  I'm ready for someone to bring those defenses."

Romar knows those defenses will come Saturday, and it's his job to keep the Huskies on point. "Every opponent that you play against, you always want to respect them," he said. "Fear none, but respect them all. But Arizona State can make it a little complicated for you, so you better be organized. You better know what you're doing going into that game or they can give you a lot of problems. They can give you fits."

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