Having lost five of their last seven games, including a 19-point setback at home against South Dakota State, the Washington Huskies are taking the practice time to polish their all-around game.
Before they start Pac-12 Conference play on Dec. 29 at home against Oregon State, the Huskies have one last non-conference game Thursday against Cal State Northridge.
The main focus for coach Lorenzo Romar is defense. Improving the scheme and execution are high priorities for him while keeping certain fundamentals at heart.
"Well, number one, we've got to do a better job of containing the basketball," Romar said. "If we can't keep the basketball right in front of us, then our entire defense breaks down."
This flaw was evident in Washington's past losses. Duke's Austin Rivers, Marquette's Darius Johnson-Odom and South Dakota State's Nate Wolters were able to make a play during transitions with ease at times.
Compared to last season, when Washington had four experienced defensive-minded starters, Romar notes that this team is a bit slower picking up the defensive philosophy.
"Although, we were behind a little bit, in terms of teaching our defense, we had to really slow down this year," Romar said. "We tried to go out at the same pace we had before and we weren't getting it and so we had to really slow down. I just think that this year, obviously, has taken longer to get it down."
Cal State Northridge appears to be an ideal team to face to warm up against the conference slate. The Matadors are 150th in points scored, close to last in field goal percentage, and their best win is a three-point victory over Pepperdine.
However, the team must adjust with the indefinite return of center Aziz N'Diaye. The 7-feet junior center sprained his knee against Duke on Dec. 10 and has missed the last two games.
"He blocks two a game," Romar said. "I think he changes two or three shots a game, probably three or four times, they don't shoot, because he's there. His presence is huge."
Playing a smaller lineup, similar to the four-guard rotation they played in the second half against Duke, the Huskies haven't been able to adapt. Washington has split the past two games: a seven-point win against UC-Santa Barbara and a loss to South Dakota State.
In the loss against South Dakota St., the Huskies allowed the Jackrabbits to shoot 55 percent from the field. The Gauchos shot 47 percent in their loss and out-rebounded the Huskies.
"Rebounding is a part of defense," Romar said. "He's (N'Diaye) the best rebounder. In a lot of ways, he's our most valuable player."
But the loss of N'Diaye has caused Tony Wroten to step up and become a playmaker. Against the Gauchos, Wroten scored 27 points on 11-for-21 shooting. This season, he's made 49 percent of his shots from the field.
"Tony's always been the guy that when the ball was in his hands to make the decision (to go for the shot)," Romar said. "You can guard him and he'll always get to the basket."
Wroten leads the team in scoring, averaging 16.4 points per game, as a freshman.
However, he needs to refine his game, Romar emphasized. Turnovers have been a persistent problem for Wroten this season. Currently, Romar is working on him passing to his perimeter shooters when defenders crash in on him in the paint.
Just like former Husky and current NBA point guard Isaiah Thomas's tendency to shoot first, Romar has confidence that Wroten will pick up those skills and responsibilities.
"I think the best example for us would be Isaiah Thomas," Romar said. "I remember when Isaiah was a freshman, there were so many people that were upset because they said he does not pass the basketball. Took him a while to learn."
After an arduous non-conference schedule with a team with a young core, Romar is certain that Wroten and this Husky team will be prepared for whatever challenges conference rivals will bring to the court.