Updated Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 11:34 PM
When their leading returning scorer and one of the purest shooters in the Pac-12 says the defense will carry Washington early in the season, you get the feeling the Huskies are embracing coach Lorenzo Romar's defense-first message.
But then again, it makes sense for Washington to concentrate on stopping opponents while it works out the kinks in its new high-post offense.
The Huskies also lost last season's leading scorers — Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. — to the NBA, and they accounted for 43 percent of the scoring.
"We all just know that we have to play defense to win, because we (lost) a bunch of talent so we need to make up for it in other areas," said junior guard C.J. Wilcox. "Defense is pretty much where our focus is at."
Romar and the UW players admit the team had difficulties at the start of last season learning the defense because it had eight freshmen.
The Huskies never fully bought into Romar's defensive principles, which is a big reason why they finished the season in the NIT semifinals rather than in the NCAA tournament after winning the Pac-12 regular-season title.
Experience and familiarity with UW's schemes should yield improved results on the defensive end this season, which begins at 5 p.m. Sunday against Loyola Maryland at Alaska Airlines Arena.
"We're a lot closer to being the type of defensive team that we want to be now than we were last year," Romar said. "Our guys have picked up our new offense to the point where I think we have a decent feel for it. It's not the finished product at all."
The Huskies might replace Ross and Wroten with fifth-year senior Scott Suggs and redshirt freshman Andrew Andrews, who both sat out last season and will have prominent roles.
Washington will also rely heavily on four-year starter Abdul Gaddy and Wilcox, who has garnered NBA interest. Both are expected to make significant improvements offensively.
While losing Ross and Wroten is a major blow, there's the addition-by-subtraction theory that has many believing UW's defense is better because defense wasn't a forte of the former Huskies.
Defensive miscues resulted in narrow defeats to Nevada, Marquette, UCLA and Oregon State.
"At times we played good defense, but when it came down to it, we didn't guard all the time," Wilcox said. "It put us in bad positions, and we paid for it late."
Romar wasn't pleased with UW's perimeter defense and rebounding in an 88-78 exhibition win over Western Washington, noting "somebody has got to step up in that department."
Early signs point to Wilcox, which is somewhat remarkable considering he averaged 2.1 rebounds as a freshman and 3.4 last season. Against Western Washington, the 6-5 junior guard had seven and on UW's European exhibition tour he had some big rebounding games.
"Rebounding is one of the things that I worked on overseas," Wilcox said. "I got a knack for it. It should be one of my main focuses this year."
If Wilcox, a three-point specialist, can transform into a defensive stopper and rebounder, then anything is possible for the Huskies, who begin the season with modest expectations.
Loyola (Md.) @ UW, 5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
ELAINE THOMPSON / AP
UW coach Lorenzo Romar wasn't happy with his team's defense in an exhibition win over Western Washington.