Hawaii men’s basketball: Rainbow Warriors learn that not all zone defenses are a shooter’s delight

Hawaii guard Eddie Stansberry attempted a 3-pointer over contesting Washington guard Nahziah Carter on Monday. Stansberry shot 1-for-17 on 3s in UH's loss. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser

Usually, just at the thought of going up against a zone defense an outside shooter’s eyes light up like, well, like a kid’s in anticipation of opening Christmas gifts.

But there’s the passive zone defense lazy, fat and/or old guys play at the park or the Y, and then there’s the Syracuse 2-3, made famous by coach Jim Boeheim. That scheme is now used at Washington by head coach Mike Hopkins, a former Syracuse shooting guard and assistant for more than 20 seasons under Boeheim.

It’s the defense Hawaii had to contend with in Monday’s 72-61 loss to No. 21 Washington at the Diamond Head Classic.

Although the 2-3 seems simplistic in concept and principles, the Warriors’ difficulties made it appear for much of the game as if they were trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. Hawaii shot just 28.4 percent from the floor for the game — including 22.6 percent in the first half after which the Huskies led 37-22.

What about those tasty open looks from outside? Hawaii made just nine of a school-record 39 3-point attempts, including one of 14 in the first half. Shooting guard Eddie Stansberry was 0-for-9 — all 3-pointers — in the first half, and 1-for-17 attempts for the game; all 17 were 3-point tries, another program record, for an individual player.

Many, if not most, of the outside shots were open looks, or at least not closely contested. But due to the length and athleticism (three sleek 6-foot-9 starters) of Washington’s players and their quick reactions, the openings were briefer than what the Warriors were used to.

UH point guard Drew Buggs said the Rainbows might have had better success with more time to practice for the zone, rather than playing the Huskies the next night after going up against a team, UTEP, that uses mostly man-to-man defense.

Acting head coach Chris Gerlufsen said UH prepared the best it could. Maybe the Warriors should have practiced against all three of their 7-footers playing zone — plus four more defenders.

“When you actually see it in person it’s impressive. They’re good at taking the 3-point (shot) away, they’re good at trapping,” Gerlufsen said. “You can’t duplicate the athleticism and the size (in practice).”

Also, one of UH’s offensive principles is going inside-out; based on the idea that good outside shots are often created by driving or passing into the lane and throwing the ball back out to a shooter. This is not easy against a zone defense full of active, long athletes that works in unison like Syracuse’s … sorry, I mean Washington’s. The passing and driving lanes don’t stay open long.

The Huskies defense was a reminder of UH’s NCAA Tournament appearances in 1994 and 2001. Both times the Rainbows lost to in the first round to Syracuse, with Hopkins as an Orange assistant in ’01. That’s when Syracuse won 79-69, with Hawaii shooting 48.5 percent from the floor, including just 26.9 on 3-pointers.

In 1994, the score was 92-78; Trevor Ruffin made seven of 13 3-pointers against the 2-3, and finished with 24 points. But Lawrence Moten had 29 and John Wallace 24 for Syracuse.


  1. Warrior Lifer December 24, 2019 8:23 am

    That’s an aggressive zone that forces you to take and make difficult shots. And you’re right, even the open shots and still contested to an extent just because if Washington’s ability to recover and use their length to get a hand up. Hawaii had some open corner shots, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Great battle, and can still finish 3rd place against an ACC team on Christmas day. Go bows!!!

  2. ALLAN December 24, 2019 12:22 pm


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