Huskies Put Defense Back in Style

SEATTLE - Three seasons ago, the Washington Huskies struck fear in the hearts of their opponents with their relentless pressure and non-stop energy. Behind the long arms and sensational instincts of Brandon Roy, Bobby Jones, Tre Simmons and Wil Conroy, the Huskies' identity was predicated on a stifling defense - and they carried it around like the mail.

After two disappointing seasons, the 2008 Huskies are finally starting to resemble their predecessors in that aspect, and it's no coincidence that the Dawgs' recent improvement in play coincides with dramatic improvements on the defensive end.

Case in point: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys entered the game one of the most dangerous shooting teams in the country. Loaded with long, athletic guards armed with quick triggers, the 'Pokes posed a challenging test for Washington, who have struggled mightily against teams who shot it well from outside. An even bigger concern was the Cowboys' transition offense – lighting quick on the fast break and especially adept at early offense off the draw and kick. But for the first time in nearly three years, the Huskies were ready to defend it, and came out on top 83-65.

"They are very hard to guard," explained Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar after the game. "But I think we did a great job as they were only 3-9 from behind the 3-point line in the first half."

Washington has been energized by the stellar defensive play of two players in particular: Sophomore Justin "Fireman" Holiday and redshirt freshmen Darnell Gant; and their teammates have responded with renewed vigor. Both Holiday and Gant bring a versatility the Huskies have lacked the last two seasons: Holiday is the consummate glue guy, smothering and always around the ball; Gant rotates from player to player, seemingly as at ease defending the perimeter as he is in the post.

Though rarely mentioned, senior Jon Brockman's defensive play has been fantastic, but now he finally has help.

While Quincy Pondexter's play on the offensive end has been hit or miss, his defense has improved immensely. Once considered a defensive liability, Pondexter's three steals against the Cowboys were a season-high for a team that has struggled with their thieving efforts. Quincy was a constant menace, whether chasing down lose balls or forcing errant passes.

Even Freshmen Isaiah Thomas has made a considerable effort to change his defensively deficient reputation, opening eyes with his tenacity around the perimeter.

"We did an excellent job of keeping them from hitting from beyond the 3-point line,which was a key coming into the game," said Thomas, who scored 18 points to lead the Huskies to an 18-point win. "As a whole, I think this was the best game we have played all year."

Despite the fact the Cowboys still managed to shoot their season average 41 percent from the 3-point line, the Huskies held them to just nine made threes; their fewest in their last five games, while holding Oklahoma State to just 21 field goals on the night – another season low.

"We are doing the right things on offense and defense and we were a lot more focused tonight," chipped in senior guard Justin Dentmon.

As well as things came together, the Huskies are averaging a meager 5.7 steals a game – good for only eight in the conference as they near the quarter mark of the 2008-2009 season. Their block numbers are equally unimpressive – averaging just two per game. USC, by comparison, are swatting away shots at a clip of nearly seven per game.

Despite those quibbles, the signs are encouraging. The Huskies are markedly improved over last year's squad, and defense is a major reason why. Though they're still a work in progress, their rotation has solidified and the players' roles are becoming more defined. With six games at home against inferior opponents before opening Pac-10 play in Pullman against Washington State, the Huskies have a tremendous opportunity to lock in their renewed defensive identity – and hopefully a trip to the NCAA tournament awaits. Top Stories