The Huskies matchup with top-ranked Gonzaga on Wednesday, December 5th will likely be won or lost in the trenches.
Gonzaga’s talented frontcourt duo of Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke will be looking for room to operate within the heart of the Huskies 2-3 “Syracuse” zone and the Huskies will need to stay alert to their presence throughout the game.
Projected as an NBA lottery pick, Rui Hachimura is an elite athlete that thrives as an inside-outside scoring threat.
The 6’8 Japanese forward is simply a matchup nightmare that can overpower smaller players and out-maneuver bigs with his explosive athleticism.
The soft belly of Washington’s zone is in the middle of the court around the foul circle, as well as along the baseline. Unfortunately, these areas are where Rui Hachimura is most dangerous.
Hachimura possesses a great midrange game and has the shooting touch to make the Huskies pay from the free throw area.
Hachimura also has a good baseline face-up game where he can athletically take defenders off the dribble then power his way to the basket.
Rui Hachimura is also effective using his strength to seal defenders with his back to the basket then making an explosive move.
Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke is also an explosive 6’8 athlete in his own right.
An athletic finisher at the rim, Clarke is an efficient scorer that shoots 76.7% from 2-point range, 21st in the nation per KenPom, and is a perfect 2 of 2 from three-point range.
Clarke is also a force on the offensive boards — ranking 73rd nationally in Offensive Rebounding Percentage.
The Huskies zone is vulnerable to good offensive rebounders because it is difficult to box-out individual offensive players when players are most often occupying the spaces between offensive players.
If Gonzaga focuses on running its offense through Hachimura it could be a very long night for the Huskies.
A worst case scenario for the Huskies is the Zags running their offense through Rui Hachimura by flashing him to the middle; Brandon Clarke roaming the 2-point baseline/low post area and cutting towards the basket when the ball goes to the middle of the zone; Zags guards setting up around the three-point line for kick-out passes; and both bigs crashing the offensive boards.
The Huskies will need to be particularly active in their zone by rotating aggressively whenever Hachimura receives a pass in the middle of the zone. This means the guards at the top of the zone, Crisp and Thybulle, will need to be ready to collapse on the middle to disrupt passing lanes and stop the entry pass.
And if Hachimura receives the ball on the wing, cutting off his dribble penetration from the wing to the middle. This means a more aggressive matchup zone approach when Hachimura has the ball to make him pass instead of penetrate the lane.
Finally, the Huskies will need an aggressive defensive rebounding effort by boxing out Gonzaga’s bigs to reduce second chance points (Gonzaga had 26 second-chance points in last year’s matchup).
Although Gonzaga did not have any trouble with the Huskies zone in last year’s matchup, this will be a more competitive game if the Huskies can learn from last year’s 27-point loss and use their zone to greater effect tonight. Go Dawgs!