1. Control the tempo. By now, everyone knows that these two teams implement contrasting styles of play. Washington wants to push the ball and turn this into a high-scoring affair. Washington State, on the other hand, wants to slow the pace and turn this into a half-court game on both ends. The Huskies will need to apply full-court man-to-man defense and force the Cougar ball-handlers to push the ball across the timeline. Once in the halfcourt, expect the Dawgs to play a tight man-to-man defense, extending their pressure out beyond the three-point line.
2. Tight, on-ball defense. If the Cougars can’t work the ball in to center Aron Baynes, they’ll be looking for the best available jumper from beyond 15 feet. Last year, they had a safety net in Kyle Weaver who could take apart defenses with his slashing ability. This year, that missing element has prevented this team from being able to score the way they did in the past. Taylor Rochestie can still get to the hole from time-to-time, but he’s better at distributing and shooting jumpers. Same for Klay Thompson, who basically has the skill set of a Tre Simmons or Ryan Appleby at this point in his career. That inability to get interior offensive production means Washington State will be searching for distance shots, meaning the Husky defenders need to blanket the man they happen to be guarding and relinquish the lane in exchange for on-ball pressure. A large dose of responsibility will be heaped on the likes of Darnell Gant, Justin Holiday, Quincy Pondexter, Venoy Overton to an extent, and the rest of the Husky perimeter defenders in stopping the quick-trigger jump shot from the Cougs.
3. Be aggressive on the boards. The first time these two teams met, Washington outrebounded Washington State 36-20. The Huskies really made their presence felt on the offensive glass, where they hauled in 13 boards to the Cougars’ five. That needs to happen again. Jon Brockman will be responsible for sealing off Aron Baynes, while the two-headed monster of Darnell Gant and Matthew Bryan-Amaning (and I guess Artem Wallace too, since he’ll be starting) will need to control the likes of Caleb Forrest. Things will start heading south if Washington lets Washington State in on those loose rebounds.
4. Stop Taylor Rochestie. It goes without saying, but Rochestie is the ultimate catalyst for this Cougar ballclub. Even if Klay Thompson and Aron Baynes pour in 20 points each, the end result of this game will come down to how Taylor Rochestie performed. In the first meeting, Rochestie led all Cougar scorers with 12 points on what was otherwise an off-night for the senior point guard. The Huskies desperately need another performance like that in this contest.
Rochestie, at 6’1″, has at least a three-inch height advantage on each of the Huskies’ guards who will be defending him. Where the Dawgs have the edge is in speed and quickness. Though Rochestie possesses above-average speed, he’ll have a hard time keeping up with the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Justin Dentmon, and especially Venoy Overton. Rochestie will likely get some great looks from beyond 15-feet, but he’ll be hard-pressed to drive in from the weak-side wing the way he likes to.
Give the Huskies an “A” if they can hold Rochestie under 10 points, a “B” if they can keep him between 10-12, a “C” for 13-15, a “D” for 15-20, and an “F” for anything over 20 points. Of course, the only letter that really matters is “W.”
5. Sustain the emotion. Remember the upset over Stanford in 2004? That game was full of emotion from the get-go, and unlike most contests where the emotion tends to subside in the second and third quarters, there was no point in those 40 minutes of basketball where the emotion ever left Hec Edmundson Pavilion. It was Senior Night then, and five years later, it will be Senior Night once again when the Dawgs take to the floor against the Cougars.
Senior Night always brings with it a great deal of emotion, and utilizing that emotion for the full 40 minutes will be key in paving the way to a Husky victory. If the Dawgs can keep the crowd involved from start to finish, controlling the atmosphere in the process, they’ll be able to wear down the Cougars with their athleticism and energy and impose their will on the road team.
Sustaining that emotion will be difficult, but it goes back to our first point of controlling the tempo. When the game is played at a fast pace, fans are more apt to stay involved. A slower tempo lulls the crowd to sleep and draws the fans out of each play. So we’ve come full circle. From Point #1 to Point #5, the Huskies need to go out tomorrow and execute their game plan if they want to make history and win their first ever outright Pac-10 title. It can be done, and let’s hope it will be.