Analysis - Wright State

SEATTLE - Washington's season opener against Wright State wasn't pretty. The Huskies didn't shoot the ball well, they struggled at times in their zone offense, and weren't able to find a reliable second scorer to compliment Isaiah Thomas' 30-point night.

One would think that that would be cause for alarm, yet it felt quite the opposite. It wasn't the fact that the Huskies stretched their lead at one stage early in the second half to 18 points before the Raiders started chipping away, and it wasn't due to Washington's comforting success at the free throw line either.

It was their defense.

What quickly became crystal clear during Friday night's game, as well as their exhibition victory over Central, is that this is going to be a very good defensive team.

Behind Venoy Overton's energetic leadership, the Huskies dominated the Raiders during the first half of play. Wright State isn't a team of patsies. They're a quality, senior-dominated squad who have played in the NCAA tournament four of the last five years. Yet the Huskies ran riot over their opponent early on, as Overton set the tone with three first-half steals. Misunderstood or not, the Franklin High graduate has garnered a well-deserved reputation as one of the most intimidating defenders in the country. He's cocky, he's brash and he runs his mouth constantly, but he's also an incredibly gifted athlete. Trash talking doesn't force turnovers; blazing hands, nimble feet, precise timing and incredible instincts do.

The Huskies forced 19 turnovers while generating 11 steals, but it wasn't just Overton doing the dirty work. Quincy Pondexter is quietly emerging as a defensive force in the Pac-10, and he equaled Overton's three-steal effort. Pondexter's combination of length, strength and quick feet allow him to rotate effectively against every position on the floor and he made the Raiders pay.

Washington also features a pair of power forwards in Darnell Gant and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who are as comfortable defending the perimeter as they are in the post. Both are capable of rotating and recovering quickly, making them perfect fits for the Huskies' constantly switching man-to-man defense. Justin Holiday's defensive prowess is no secret, and he left his mark in 11 short minutes, shaking the rust off after being sidelined with a groin injury during the preseason. He'll only grow more confident in the coming weeks.

Most surprising was the inspired play of sophomore Scott Suggs, who contributed an efficient 18-minute, nine-point performance. The lanky 6-foot-6 former Missouri Mr. Basketball suffered through a disappointing freshman season, but appears to have made significant adjustments to all aspects of his game during the offseason.

In time, the team's length and versatility will enable the Huskies to play even more aggressively, and take gambles few teams dare to.

For a team that's going to need some time finding its footing on the offensive end, playing inspired defense is especially important. They're not a very good shooting team; that much is obvious, and the Washington Huskies need to find other ways to win. Besides keeping their opponents from scoring, good defense generates transition baskets, and the Huskies are going to need all the help they can get while their offensive flaws get sorted out.


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