The Washington Huskies will need their defense to carry them to the NCAA postseason tournament. This was illustrated in Washington's loss to Utah 74-65, its first Pac-12 home loss in five conference games.
Utah gave Washington a taste of its own medicine. The Huskies shot a miserable 37.3 percent (25-of-67) from the field. The Utes shot an impressive 60.4 percent (29-of-48) as the Huskies' first-half defensive lapses led to easy buckets.
The visitors kept junior guard C.J. Wilcox, who was averaging 22 points per game, scoreless in the first half. He finished the night with 14 points.
Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar elaborated on his team's effort without the ball in his postgame press conference.
"We knew that this team was very capable and they would grind you and play defense. I just think we came out and we were lackluster defensively. They shoot 60 percent against us...It wasn't the type and level of defense we've been playing and it cost us."
Before the Utah matchup, the Huskies held their opponents to a league-low 56 points per game and an 8.8-point scoring margin. Washington's tenacious defending resulted in a 37.4 field-goal percentage for the opposition, second only to Arizona State.
The Huskies out-rebound their competitors by an average of six rebounds a game. They are also second in the league with an average of 12 offensive boards per game.
Wilcox, senior center Aziz N'Diaye and sophomore forward Desmond Simmons are three critical players in the Huskies' drive to the "Big Dance."
N'Diaye leads the league in offensive rebounds with 3.8 per game. Besides his scoring prowess, Wilcox is credited with 4.7 rebounds. Simmons' 8.1 boards are second on the team.
Romar acknowledged the importance of his team's need to focus on defense. Otherwise, the Huskies will be headed home once the Pac-12 season ends.
"We had tough times (shooting) in the other four games, but we defended." Romar said. "We don’t ever tell our guys ‘What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you making shots?’ Look, they’re not trying to miss shots. You can’t control that all the time. We had open look after open look after open look. But we can control more of how we guard."
Pac-12 Conference Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com.
All quotes were obtained firsthand or from Washington Huskies communications.