December 30, 2009

Overton sparking Dawgs with defense

SEATTLE -- As Pac-10 play begins, Washington has to assert its back-court advantage in a conference that is stocked full of experienced guards.

In fact, the only players returning from the all-conference first and second teams are guards, with California's Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randal, Arizona's Nic Wise and Washington's own Isaiah Thomas.

"I wouldn't say there is a much post presence as in previous years with Spencer Hawes, the Lopez twins, Kevin Love. We can just go down the line and talk about how many teams, Jeffery Pendergraft. Even Jordan Hill and Washington State's Aaron Baines - most teams has had somebody really quality. I don't think we have that as much right now," said Husky men's coach Lorezo Romar.

But as Pac-10 play starts, junior guard Venoy Overton is turning it up on both sides of the ball, averaging 11 points and more than two steals in the past three games.

"Less gambling and keeping my man in front of me," Overton said about changing his defensive approach. "When I see an opportunity, I try to help a teammate out. The play just slows down and I go for it."

That approach came in handy in the Dawgs' 86-71 win over San Francisco Dec. 27 when Overton came in with Washington holding a seven-point advantage in the second half. The 5-11 guard out of Franklin got three steals in a couple of minutes that each led to a Husky basket.

"Sometimes he wants to get that steal so bad that he moves his body over and his guy goes to the rim on him," Romar said. "But every steal he got in the last game was off the ball ... so he's not only playing on the ball, but when he gets going, he's disrupting all over the place. The Next thing I know, we're up 13, 14 points."

Overton is becoming the face of a Huskies defense that comes into conference play leading in both blocked shots (5.1) and turnover margin (+4) by significant margins. The role is becoming common for Overton, who playing at the end of last season as a sophomore, earned national exposure for his defense on the ball during both the Pac-10 and NCAA tournaments which ultimately earned him an honorable mention for the conference all-defensive team.

"I think he's emerging, but then Justine Holiday, Scott Suggs and Elston Turner, depending on what the game needs, are starting to emerge as well - and you know, Tyreese (Breshers) had his best game last game," Romar said.

Defensively, the Dawgs have forced 17 turnovers on average in the past three games, showing that trademark defense is right where it should be.

"Sometimes it seems like we're a ways away, but often it feels like we're right there," Romar said. "For instance, Texas Tech - they score 14 points because we don't rotate back in the safety position. That's something basic that we know we need to do," he said. "But we haven't had that issue that much since then, but the game went into overtime. That's 14 points, and with a game like that you talk about the two free throws you had, but what if you eliminate the points that you could have controlled?"

Romar's coaching principles revolve around defense and rebounding, as the Huskies are just now remembering from last year's team, as Overton said became apparent in the Texas A&M game.
"We had it in spurts," he said. "We knew it all season, but we started putting it together then, realizing that anybody could beat us."

Overton's aggressiveness gives Washington an advantage in the Pac-10, as many teams will look to run due to a lack of established post presence and a number of returning guards.

"You look a team like Arizona. They don't have a Jordan Hill and they're really running with athletic bigs," said senior Quincy Pondexter. "I don't think the conference is as bad as some people are saying, but it is a young conference."

Overton is also beginning to reach his offensive potential, scoring a season-high 12 against Texas A&M and hitting a trio of three-pointers against USF.

"I'm staying aggressive. When I see a lane I take it hard and trying to help the team and be that third scorer," Overton said.

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