Defense goes missing
As has been the case all season long, Wednesday night’s defeat against the Owls boiled down to a case of defense.
The struggle has been an uphill battle for the Cougars, and with the game on the line with less than five minutes remaining, UH again fell into a string of bad habits as the cross-town rivals traded leads.
It wasn’t necessarily that the Cougars didn’t play hard. In fact, their effort was as inspired as it has been all year. Rather, the problem for this young team, on display in the 79-71 loss, is defensive precision.
The Cougars defended strongly in the first half, hanging tough against a sharp-shooting Rice backcourt that shot 48 percent from the beyond the arc. Head coach James Dickey has emphasized the importance of defensive awareness throughout the season, and with the Owls repeatedly burning the Cougars with double-picks, the Cougars work-in-progress team defense failed to make good on his emphasis.
With J.J. Thompson chasing Rice point guard Dylan Ennis around the perimeter, Rice’s shooters quickly recognized the Cougars’ lack of court awareness. The effort was present, but UH’s inability to make adjustments against the Owl’s offensive plan led to basket after basket, most of which coming from beyond the arc.
Either by design or plain ineffectiveness, the Cougars have proven throughout the year that their defensive scheme is rigid — in tight leads, in blowouts and everything in between— UH does not adjust when an offense has cracked their defensive holes.
Dickey’s issues with pressing have been voiced, and it hasn’t been without contention that he’s held tightly to avoiding the decision not to employ the tactic. But after being bombed from three-point range by Ennis, Tamir Jackson and Jarelle Reischel, there was also no sign of zone to dare Rice to challenge UH’s big men either.
It’s a dangerous habit for a coach to be inflexible with a young team’s defense, and in Wednesday’s loss, that inability was on display.
In front of what certainly will be there largest crowd of the year, the Cougars gave their rowdy fans something to cheer about, if only briefly. Moving forward, two-halves of precise, well-adjusted defense is the only key to make that cheering last a little longer.