Beach's Bits – Tournament Review

The opening 2011-2012 salvo for the Husky team has been fired, and the very early returns are in – this is a good UW basketball team. The Huskies overwhelmed a solid 2-0 Portland team in their most impressive victory to date, finally demonstrating their explosive offensive potential.

Hitting on all cylinders, Washington was at their best with the ball in Abdul Gaddy's capable hands. He and freshman Tony Wroten terrorized the Pilots using their dribble penetration to draw defenders as their teammates reigned jumpers from the perimeter.

Here are some thoughts I came away with after watching all three of Washington's wins during their World Vision Basketball Classic championship run.

What knee injury? - Abdul Gaddy is back, and back with a vengeance. Normally ACL injuries don't have a Tommy John-type effect on the player, but Gaddy is quicker, more aggressive and more confident than at any time in his Husky career. The junior from Tacoma averaged 13 points, six assists and grabbed 4.8 rebounds per game, earning All-Tournament honors for his efforts. Though his eight turnovers were uncharacteristic of the sure-handed junior, chalk that up to shaking off the rust after a nine month basketball layoff. His defense looked stellar, and his calming presence on the floor is tangible. If his first three games are any indication, this is the Abdul Gaddy Husky fans have been waiting for.

Monday's win came in stark contrast to Sunday's disappointing effort against Florida Atlantic. It only took two games for UW's vaunted shooters to succumb to the inevitable off night, and the Huskies floundered as a result. Fortunately, they were playing FAU and not Duke or Marquette – or even Saint Louis for that matter. We knew it would happen eventually. Washington may have explosive scoring potential, but even the best shooters have bad nights. The Owls didn't do anything particularly special either. Unless you consider aggressive, fundamental defense special. They weren't very big, nor especially athletic, nor did FAU Head Coach Mike Jarvis employ a gimmicky zone. He didn't need to. The Huskies missed well enough on their own.

They obviously learned their lesson though, because Monday night's win was inspired.

C.J. Wilcox was the biggest revelation for the Dawgs over the weekend. The redshirt sophomore was absolutely deadly, averaging nearly 20 points over the three-game tournament and earning Tournament MVP honors. He deserved it, as well as the Pac-12 Player of the Week honors he was awarded earlier in the day - not just for his incredible outside shooting, but for his efforts in just about every aspect of the game. He averaged 4.8 boards, 2.7 steals and two assists over the three games, and he blocked three shots. Plus, his defensive efforts were excellent. He hit big shot after big shot. It didn't matter whether he was all alone or had defenders draped all over him, he was rock solid.

Terrence Ross woke up. For all of the hype and preseason accolades, Ross had quiet games during the weekend and is adjusting to life in the starting lineup as one of Washington's primary scorers. He caught fire against Portland though, torching the Pilots for a game high 24 points including 6-8 from three-point range. His defense has really improved as well, and Lorenzo Romar had nothing but praise for Ross' defensive effort in limiting Portland's Nemanja Mitrovic, an All-Tournament pick, to five points.

Watching Paint Dry - The Huskies aren't expected to get a ton of offensive productivity out of the post, and what little they get probably isn't going to cut it against more capable opponents. Aziz N'Daiye averaged 9.5 points over the three games - not bad, but not enough to scare teams into packing the paint at the expense of their perimeter defense. Were it not for the guards crashing the offensive glass, it could have been worse.

Darnell Gant started the tournament out strong, scoring 18 points in 22 minutes in Washington's season-opener against Georgia State. But most of those points came from the outside, and they need his size and offensive presence more in the paint, than out on the perimeter. Eventually he can really stretch defenses as an outside-in scorer, but he has to show some teeth in the paint to keep people honest. He's one of UW's most versatile defenders, and he proved that all weekend long.

In terms of rebounding, UW doesn't rebound the ball the way they have in the past. Not that they were bad on the glass, but they just didn't rebound the ball the way that we are accustomed to seeing. The Huskies sent the guards to the glass at every opportunity, and their transition defense seemed to suffer as a result. Over the three games, Washington was consistently beaten down the floor as opponents often found easy scoring opportunities whenever they pushed the ball on the break. The Dawgs averaged 40 rebounds a game in the three games, just one more than their opponents. Those aren't numbers you'd see from a team that normally dominates Pac-12 rebounding statistics. There's no reason to be alarmed this early, but it's definitely something worth noting.

Strong out of the blocks - Tony Wroten's UW debut has seemingly been coming for years, and overall he didn't disappoint. His physical gifts are phenomenal, and his 12-point, five rebound, four assist tournament average met most expectations. He plays like a freshman, and turned the ball over a lot (also expected) but he settled into a nice rhythm at times, and there's no doubt he's ready to excel on the D1 stage.

Tiny Dancer - The Pac-12 is loaded with quality, tiny guards and Washington got plenty of practice against little point men over the weekend. For the most part, Gaddy and Wroten held their own against their considerably smaller counterparts. Gaddy seems noticeably quicker than last season, and it translated into more effective play on the defensive end. Wroten, for his part, is such a naturally gifted athlete that his athleticism covers many of his defensive deficiencies – and there were plenty. The good news is that when he's fully engaged on the defense end, he's already a solid defender. More than any other player on the team, there are obvious visual clues to Wroten's level of defensive focus. When he's defending low and wide, he's engaged and effective. When he isn't, he stands up straight, sticks his arm out, and gets beaten off the dribble – pretty much every time. The improvement between the exhibition game and Portland game was obvious though. When he learns to do it 100 percent of time, he'll be one of top defenders in the conference.

Unfortunately, Wroten's free throw shooting thus far makes N'Diaye look like Jerry West. It was absolutely atrocious at 36 percent, which is a shame because he's going to be at the free throw line a lot. The reality is, unless he addresses it, he may find himself watching from the sidelines in the second half during close games. He already changed his pre-shot routine from no bounces Sunday to a few Monday, and as he missed his first five attempts against Portland, you could tell he was visibly unhappy about it, to the point where his final free throws almost appears shot with distain, as in 'the heck with this!'. One of them dropped, which was greeted with Hec Ed's version of the Bronx Cheer. Much like with players like Brockman, Isaiah Thomas, and others - Wroten has to figure out the mental side to making his shots, and when he does it won't be a problem for him. The sooner, the better.

These Huskies can play defense. The Dawgs held their opponents under 40 percent from the field – much of that due to their effectiveness preventing opponents from getting good looks in the paint. Too bad the relentless attention to clogging the middle didn't extend to the perimeter, because the Huskies got torched from outside during the first two games before recovering against Portland. Blown perimeter rotations were a blemish on an otherwise solid early defensive showing. It's November, and they're a work in progress, but the Huskies are a good defensive team. And they could be a great one.

Dawg fans got their wish against the Pilots; that is, a blowout. They showcased their star power, athleticism and marksmanship from outside. Everyone knew it was there, but before anyone gets too excited, this story is eerily similar to the one I wrote after the same tournament last year.


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