BY Bob Sherwin 07:16PM 12/15/2010

Gentlemen, how ’bout some boards?

If he can stay out of foul trouble, Aziz N’Diaye will be the guy to fix what ails Huskies

Washington needs Aziz N’Diaye’s rebounding prowess. (Drew McKenzie/Sportspress Northwest)

In the days since Washington’s 63-62 loss to Texas A&M Saturday, coach Lorenzo Romar has watched it 11 times on video. Unfortunately for his Huskies, nothing changed. They lost each time.

But Romar does not study the game films with a woulda-shoulda-coulda approach but a dispassionate eye for where things that went wrong and how he can fix them. From his perspective, it didn’t come down to a failed last-second, game-winning shot but a recurring issue that is preventing his team from reaching its potential.

As Romar puts it, “What’s been killing us is (lack of) rebounds. So we have to play guys who are stronger in that area.”

The Huskies (6-3), who have dropped out of the nation’s top 25, were out-rebounded by the Aggies, 35-28. A&M grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.

Rebounding has been the problem for the Huskies. They’ve been out-rebounded in all of their losses as well as by much lesser opponents, Eastern Washington and St. Martin’s.

“This has been a pattern. So patterns over a period of time have to be addressed,” Romar said. “We know who our best rebounders are, so we’ll probably have to play them more minutes.”

What it means is that the starting lineup and the rotation for Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against San Francisco (4-5) will be adjusted. The biggest change involves the team’s biggest guy, 7-foot Aziz N’Diaye.

“Aziz is averaging about 2.5 rebounds every 3 minutes, which is better than Jon Brockman,” Romar said. “Aziz probably needs to play more.”

N’Diaye, who had seven rebounds in 13 minutes Saturday, is averaging 6.1 rebounds – second on the team – and 15.3 minutes per game. But he also leads the team in fouls and is coming off a significant knee injury from a year ago.

However, Romar said N’Diaye can handle increased minutes. He needs to handle them. This is a team that does not have an instinctive rebounder. There are plenty of shooters and solid defenders but rebounding doesn’t appear to be finely developed skill.

“With this team, we have so many athletes some times we rely on our athleticism to go grab rebounds,” said forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, third on the team with a 5.8 rpg average. “We need to go back to fundamentals, techniques. It’s what we’ve been doing a lot in practice.”

What Romar and the coaching staff have been stressing in practice and their film sessions is emphasizing boxing out. That doesn’t mean one player using his bulk and positioning to prevent his defender from reaching the rebound. It means team box-outs. It means rotating around the lane to help when a teammate double teams. It means aggressively going after the rebound.

“If everything remains the same, and we do a better job of boxing out, we’re undefeated right now,” Romar said. “Look at how many second-chance points we’ve given up.”

That’s the killer, the offensive rebounds. The majority of the time, those turn into baskets.

Kentucky grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, Michigan State had 13 and Texas A&M had 15.

“I’ve been watching a lot of film,” Bryan-Amaning said. “I see times when I’m boxing out where I don’t get the ball and my man doesn’t get it either. You have to get to the point where I can box out my man and go get the rebound. Sometimes I box out and the opposite team guard will grab the ball and get a layin.”

Romar likely will have MBA and N’Diaye on the floor together for long stretches. He also will give more minutes to Justin Holiday, the team leader with 6.2 rebounds per game. Holiday played just 15 minutes against the Aggies because of foul trouble.

How he sorts out his rotation comes down to balance. He can’t put his five best rebounders on the floor “and find we can’t shoot and can’t defend. Then we have a problem.”

Unfortunately for the Huskies, two players who could have provided a stronger rebounding edge are not part of this year’s team. Sophomore 6-foot-7 forward Tyreese Breshers was an aggressive rebounder but he had to retire from basketball because of a medical issue. Also, 6-7 freshman forward Desmond Simmons is using this year to red shirt. And he’s not coming off.

“His (Simmons) forte is rebounding,” Romar said. “He’s one of those guys. But he’s already missed nine games. We’re not going to take a year away just to do that.”


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