Thursday, December 7, 2017

Phone call with Syracuse staff helped Washington’s Mike Hopkins game plan for Kansas

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tosses a ball from the floor as Washington forward Sam Timmins (33) hovers over during the second half, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tosses a ball from the floor as Washington forward Sam Timmins (33) hovers over during the second half, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 at Sprint Center.


Sometimes in sports, coaches and players spend hours studying an opponent and preparing for game day only to see things go south when game time finally arrives.

And then there are moments like Wednesday night, when all you need is a phone call.

With just two days between his team's last game and Wednesday's stunning, 74-65 victory over second-ranked Kansas at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., Washington basketball coach Mike Hopkins knew he had to act fast.

Luckily for Hopkins and the Huskies (7-2), the scouting report for Kansas was made much easier thanks to some favorable scheduling and a phone call between the UW coach and members of the Syracuse staff.

“For us, it was, here's the answers to the test,” Hopkins said of his conversations with two Syracuse assistants. “If we can do this we can win.”

Hopkins, who both played at Syracuse for Jim Boeheim and worked as an assistant coach under him for 20 years, is a bit of an expert on the 2-3 zone the Orange have made their signature throughout the years. Because of that, he was able to lock in on the parts of the zone that worked for Syracuse in last weekend's loss to KU in Miami and also tweak the parts that didn't. He did, of course, have a little help.

“I talked to Gerry McNamara and Allen Griffin on the Syracuse staff and we watched the game,” Hopkins explained. “Obviously, I'm really familiar with the (Syracuse) program and you're watching the game and you just figure, this could be our best opportunity to win the game if we do this. And we were able to execute.”

The focus of Hopkins' phone conversation with McNamara, another former Syracuse guard himself, was almost entirely on KU point guard Devonte' Graham, who had torched Syracuse for 35 points and was as hot as any player in the country coming into Wednesday night.

McNamara explained to Hopkins where the Orange went wrong and how they could have guarded Graham better and Hopkins listened to every last word of it.

“We just weren't going to let him beat us,” Hopkins said. “(Against Syracuse), he made all the passes, he made all the plays and he's such a big time player that we were banking on forcing somebody else to do it.”

Graham finished Wednesday's loss with just three points on 1-of-8 shooting and, after the loss, explained how Washington guarded him differently than Syracuse.

“They executed their game plan pretty well,” Graham said. “Every time we threw the ball to the high post, both of the top guys just stayed with me basically, and the bottom wings fanned out and took away Malik (Newman) and Svi (Mykahiliuk) and just basically said let's make Lagerald (Vick) make every play. ...They did a good job of not letting us get comfortable and make shots.”

Hopkins said Washington's experience so far this season against less talented teams who like to shoot from the outside as much or more than Kansas (7-1) positioned his squad to be ready for the Wednesday's challenge.

“It's really the cryptonite of the zone,” Hopkins said of teams that can bomb away from the outside. “So we've had to adapt and adjust and figure that out, and the experience of those other games allowed these guys (to have some success against Kansas).”

More news and notes from Kansas vs. Washington

By the Numbers: Washington 74, Kansas 65.

By the Numbers: Washington 74, Kansas 65.


Roger Ortega 4 years, 9 months ago

So much talk on the zone that definitely stifled our offense but we let them score on almost every single possession. If we could've been stronger on defense that zone wouldn't have mattered and Vick would be a hero right now. But our defense failed us whether it was coming in with idea that we had just torn up 'Cuse's zone or that this was an easy win or the fact that we are so close to the end of the semester...who knows. Either way we weren't active enough on defense to force turnovers or even get a stop when it mattered. They stacked up around the top of the key a few times and set several picks allowing the guard to run along that line, cut the corner and drive it. We finally picked up on that but it wasn't enough. It's not the end of the world and since I'm still reeling from the elite eight loss this one doesn't feel so bad. Relatively speaking of course. Lots of season ahead and I think we will get our complete roster back...AND ONE. ROCK CHALK

Matt Tait 4 years, 9 months ago

I hear what you're saying, but holding a team to 74 points should be more than good enough for this Kansas offense to win.

Both KU's struggles vs. the zone and poor defense were big factors in the Wednesday result.

Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago

honestly, yes the offense struggled, but their defense is what let them down the most by far..when they got with 53-52, they allowed UW 7 straight easy points to go back up by 8 and the game essentially ended right there..everytime Vick would score, they would score..The defense couldnt get more than 1 or 2 stops in a are gonna have scoring droughts sometimes, but your D HAS to step up and make stops..apart of the issue was Azibuike not playing a lot of minutes..until KU can finally add Preston and or DeSousa, any game in which Lightfoot and Clay play as many minutes as Dok, KU will lose that game..especially if the 3's dont drop to make up for it.. I love KU, but if they cant add any more size this season, this team will lose about 7-10 games, be no higher than a 3 seed and be out by the first weekend..they are too thin in the frontcourt, terrible rebounding and they dont shoot any FTs

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 9 months ago

So what now? Every team who wants to beat KU will call those guys and start playing 2-3 or 3-2 zone against us? Is this the end of B12 champ streak? Do we have no answer to this kind of D? We haven't even talked about full-press WV yet. What are we going to do? By now, hopefully our coaching staff has figured things out. We just need our boys to execute next strategies. Go Jayhawk!!

Shannon Gustafson 4 years, 9 months ago

Teams can't just switch from man to zone defense for one game and be anywhere as effective as a team that plays zone all the time (just like a team that doesn't press can't suddenly be a WV style pressing team for one game).

Matt Tait 4 years, 9 months ago

Bingo, Shannon. Because of that, it's probably not a major concern for the KU coaching staff.

But having said that, if I'm any coach left on KU's schedule this year, I'm going to work on some kind of zone that closely resembles what Washington in the days leading up to my showdown with Kansas just to throw it at them for a few minutes.

KU will have to find a way to operate against it, even if they don't see it all that much the rest of the way.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 9 months ago

Surely sounds like a great plan.

I want to see those guards move around, not just passively watching or frozen. There's gotta be a way utilize the guys in perimeter. Perhaps, 2 guys can set screen on top to free up Graham to penetrate or to shoot 3s.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 9 months ago

Instead of playing zone against Kansas, the real answer is to get Azubuike into early foul trouble. With no other true big to play down low, opposing teams can control the low post on both ends of the court.

Not knocking on Lightfoot. He stands in there taking hard charges and plays with the right mentality but his body just isn't big enough against players who have 30 pounds and several inches on him.

I know Coach Self isn't psychic and no one could have predicted that Preston would place this team into this position but we would have been overly thin even if Preston was playing. I feel Self deserves some of the blame by not aggressively recruiting other true bigs.

If Silvio starts playing in the 2nd semester (the fact that there has been no new developments doesn't bode well), then maybe this team will still have a shot at the Final Four. As things stand now however, this team will be remembered for what could have been and the team that ended the streak.

Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago

Steve..the issue is more a lack of personnel...if KU had Preston or the other 3 big men that were supposed to be on this years roster but transferred out, this would have been a 10-15 point win easily..but there is no quick fix..we have noone to give Azibuike help, we dont have a Mason type player that will put pressure on the D and draw fouls..we have a team full of shooters and 1 big man..that big man sits, and KU morphs into a Mid Major offense with Mid Major rebounding and defense problems

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 9 months ago

Yeap, sounds logical to me, Craig. Not sure about 'win easily' part because they're long, but definitely one of those games that's worth giving another shot at when we had a full roster.

Ryan Ferree 4 years, 9 months ago

Am i the only person who thought Vick played like garbage last night? Yes he had 28 points on 12-23 shooting but all of those shots came within 5 feet of the basket. He needs to learn to drive to the basket hard and either MAKE the layup or draw the foul. He left a ton of points on the table last night.

Dyrk Dugan 4 years, 9 months ago

Defense and our turnovers lost the game last night; throw in being out rebounded by three, and it was all she wrote. We must hang our hat on these principles: handle the ball, D, and rebounding; everything flows from that including offense (stick backs, transition buckets etc.). Until we get full personnel, our half court set offense will continue to struggle; it’s a long season folks, plenty of improvement to be made.

Dave Miller 4 years, 9 months ago

You can bet that Scott Drew / Baylor coaching staff will be watching that game weekly and trying to draw up a hauntingly similar strategy.

Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago

hopefully well before then KU would have added Preston and DeSousa..the UW wasnt as effective when Azibuike was in because they had to account for him..but when he sat, they KNEW KU wasnt going to attempt any type of post pass and was a non threat to score anywhere near the basket

Tony Bandle 4 years, 9 months ago

Can all of you just imagine what Josh Jackson would have done to that zone in lieu of Vick??!!!

JJ would have scored 60 points and probably fouled three Huskies out!!!

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 9 months ago

Vick has the ability to do that as well but he lacks the confidence and maybe the aggressiveness needed to pull it off. Vick has taken a beating of most of the boards since Washington and I hope that motivates him to play up to his abilities.

The Vick we saw against Washington needs to be shelved.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 9 months ago

Next: 1st rank Pac-12; looks like another bunch of good 3pt shooters. They look legit. We really need to get our D toughened up, and our 3s to fall... yes, it'll be a looong season.

Andy Godwin 4 years, 9 months ago

As indicated before season, KU would likely miss the Swiss army knife Josh Jackson the most given the current lack of front court depth. Having Billy Preston could help, but Jackson at the 4 provided an alpha dog mentality with more height and an impressive skill set. Love Vick’s talent but not as a small forward.

Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago

people must also keep in mind that before the season KU was slated to have 5 front court players available for this years team with 4 of them being 6 10' and up...even with Preston not playing and even just one transferring, KU would still have 3 big bodies to throw out there..that alone would make them better on defense, rebounding and protect Dok from foul trouble...without Azibuike, KU becomes a Mid Major style offense with mid major rebounding and defense issues

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 9 months ago

Not sure what you mean by "slated". The only PF coming into the program was Preston. I think most people were not surprised to see Bragg pack his bags and it seems Self and Coleby parted ways soon after the Oregon loss.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 9 months ago

Matt, I for one enjoy your comments on your articles and hope some of the other reporters might follow suit.

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