SEATTLE – The essence of Washington’s most dangerous player is captured via conversation with two players who must defend him this afternoon.
The mention of Tony Wroten, UW’s freshman point guard and the Pac-12’s second-leading scorer, evokes different reactions among Washington State’s basketball players.
Reggie Moore, a junior who grew up in Seattle and knows Wroten well, offers high praise.
“I’ve always told him he’s my favorite player to watch play,” Moore said.
But Marcus Capers focuses more on the other side of Wroten’s game.
“He’s a good player,” said Capers, a senior guard. “But to me, he’s loose cannon. He does a lot of good stuff, but he turns the ball over a lot.”
Moore and Capers are both right. Wroten, who is recovering from elbow and tailbone injuries but is expected to play today, is one of the better point guards in the country when he’s doing the things that have allowed him to average 17 points per game and make his teammates better – attacking the rim and making passes that most can’t.
That will be what the Cougars must prevent when they face the Huskies at 4 p.m. today at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
What WSU must take advantage of, then, is Wroten’s tendency to force passes and commit silly turnovers – he averages a shade more than four per game.
And though he’d made more free throws than all but one other Pac-12 player (Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham) prior to Saturday’s games, Wroten converts just 58.3 percent of his attempts.
It’s no wonder WSU coach Ken Bone views Wroten as a difference-maker. But the difference is sometimes made in the opposing team’s favor.
“The guy’s a pro. There’s no doubt about it,” Bone said. “And he can hurt you in so many ways,” such as the seven steals Wroten procured at Colorado last week.
Guarding him is going to be a challenge, careless turnovers and missed defensive assignments aside.
“You can’t shut him down,” WSU freshman guard Davonte Lacy said. “Hopefully, you can slow him down and win the game. He’s one of the best players as a freshman, so as he goes, the team goes, and vice versa.”
The Cougars must also contend with UW guards C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross, both of whom shoot well from 3-point range and rank in the conference’s top 10 in scoring. Both players could present issues for WSU defensively if it chooses to continue playing a 2-3 matchup zone.
Washington State (9-7, 1-3 Pac-12) won at Hec Ed last season. Under Bone, the Cougars have usually come at the Huskies with high energy and a game plan that proves bothersome to coach Lorenzo Romar’s squad.
Moore said he plans to be more assertive on offense. Washington (10-6, 3-1 Pac-12) has struggled against aggressive point guards this season, allowing 34 points to Nate Wolters of South Dakota State and 31 points to Nevada’s Deonte Burton.
“I feel like they don’t really have a leader,” Capers said. “It’s a lot of individuals trying to play selfish. The games they win, they play as a team. I feel like if we go into the game with a team mindset, this game should be ours for the taking.”