Within the first four minutes of last night’s 106-34 thrashing of Corban College, it became readily apparent that the University of Washington intended to set the tone of the game with defense.
Washington’s defensive attack started on the perimeter, with 5’8" junior Sarah Morton and 5’10" sophomore Kristi Kingma smothering Corban’s 5’6" point guard Ashley Jensen, disrupting the offense and forcing bad passes Corban struggled to get into their offense, much less find high percentage shots.
As a result of the pressure on Corban’s lead ball-handlers, Washington was able to jump out to a quick 11-2 lead while Corban sputtered out of the gate with four turnovers and only three shots.
Corban was limited to 5% shooting from the field for the first half and were down 58-10 at halftime. Corban’s starting guards finished the game with a combined eight turnovers and two assists.
"We’ve been really stressing that the whole year – getting up on the guards, playing tough defense, getting up in their grill," said Morton. "And I think especially from Sara Mosiman and the people who play the two position really picking up the ball full court and slowing us down in transition really helps the rest of the players get back. With that kind of pressure on the ball it’s hard to get inside -- it makes their offense move a lot slower. With more pressure it makes us more successful."
It was not only the pressure on Corban’s lead ball-handlers that led to Washington’s dominant performance, but also an increased defensive intensity all around. In contrast to their previous game against Seattle Pacific University, every single Washington defender had active feet, got hands in the faces of shooters, and played the passing lanes well on Corban’s desperate passes.
"We really pride ourselves on our aggression defensively," said Washington coach Tia Jackson. "We really try to slow teams up from transitioning on us… It starts with the five players that are out there to begin the game because they set the tone and the pace for us. It was just good to see that our defensive pressure was causing some problems."
Offensively, the active defense led to easy offense in transition for the Huskies. Senior Sami Whitcomb led the charge statistically with a game-high five steals to complement her 23 points and 11 rebounds, also both game-highs. Kristi Kingma and Regina Rogers chipped in 12 points a piece as well.
However, Washington coach Tia Jackson was also cautious in her assessment of all of the team’s performance in the game.
"We played a lot of our zone defense tonight just to see where we were and areas we need to improve upon," said Washington coach Tia Jackson. "Boxing out is one of those areas. We might have had a tad bit more athleticism and able to get rebounds, but we do not want to mistake activity for achievement."
Although activity is certainly not an achievement against an opponent at an athletic disadvantage, the increased defensive activity is a promising sign for a UW team moving closer to a very difficult Pac-10 schedule.
Disciplined activity is a key for UW
As a team with eight underclassmen that the media picked to finish last in a competitive Pac-10 this season, it is unlikely that UW will overwhelm teams with talent game to game. UW’s success – and the biggest difference between their two exhibition games – will depend heavily on their discipline and energy.
"Defensive discipline is always important," said Jackson. "We kinda talk about doing us no matter the opponent. We wanted to play with the same aggression no matter if it was Seattle Pacific University or Corban College -- and the same thing going into Saturday’s game against Portland State."
Even against a NAIA opponent in a home exhibition, the energy UW showed was a marked improvement over their first game. The fact that they were able to sustain a high energy level over the course of the game was perhaps even more impressive.
Active feet on defense, finding open shooters, and rotating to help as teammates trap are things that occur independent of playing inferior competition – they are the result of a mindset. It was a mentality that was not quite evident in their first game and the defining characteristic of their second game.
Offensively, the discipline came in the form of patience and finding open players, most clearly embodied by Morton’s eight assist and one turnover performance.
"It was a lot of fun," said Morton. "It’s easy when you know you have a lot of ammo around you. I got Regina [Rogers] down low and amazing shooters on the outside. So once I get on the inside of the paint, it’s fun. I can choose what I want to do and I am confident in whatever I do."
Although many of Morton’s assists came in open court scenarios, she did an excellent job of picking and choosing spots to set up others in position to score. The patience and decision making on her part was a major factor in UW playing effectively in half-court sets.
Certainly a game like last night’s is neither reason for elation over the win nor critique of failings – Corban was simply physically over matched and unable to find an answer to UW’s defensive pressure. While the bench cheered when sophomore Charmaine Barlow hit a free throw in the final minute of the game to ensure that every player scored, statistics are not necessarily what matters in a game like this one.
For a team like UW that will need to rely on consistently doing the little things well in order to achieve even marginal success in the Pac-10, last night’s game was an encouraging sign.