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The fluke question: Washington 49, SDSU 36

Here are a few facts about San Diego State's offensive performance in Sunday night's loss at Washington:

  • San Diego State 9-of-31 from inside the arc and 2-of-15 beyond it, good for 11 total field goals and 20.4 percent shooting overall.

  • That figure is the least-accurate San Diego State shooting performance since 1996.

  • The 36 points the Aztecs somehow wedged between the orange iron Sunday are the fewest in San Diego State's entire Division I history.

  • The game was played across 55 possessions. That's slow, sure, but 36 points in 55 possessions is still .65 points per trip -- and that's still really bad, no matter how you slice it.

All of which begs the question: Does Sunday night's historically bad Aztecs performance constitute a fluke? And if so, what does that mean for Washington?

The fluke question is still a tough one, even as we creep toward the middle of December, and it gets almost unanswerable when we're talking about a team like the Huskies. Before the Aztecs brought their endless supply of bricks to the Alaska Airlines Arena, the Huskies' best win of the season was a 68-65 neutral-court escape of UTEP. Yes, Washington is 7-0, but those other five wins have come against South Carolina State, Seattle, Pacific, San Jose State and Long Beach State.

That said, a closer look at Lorenzo Romar's team does reveal some exciting developments. Only one opponent has scored more than a point per trip against this defense. After Sunday night -- which means the Aztecs helped boost these numbers, but still -- Washington is allowing the fourth-lowest opponent effective field goal percentage (37.2) in the country. UW opponents shoot just 24.4 percent from 3 and 37.5 percnet from 2. Romar, for his part, has been convinced for months that his team should be a defensive beast.

"I think we told that to our team before we even started practicing that we could be a really good defensive team," Romar told reporters Sunday night.

In 2013-14, in the midst of a second-straight so-so season, Romar totally revamped his team's defensive style. Out were the high-pressure, turnover-forcing, up-tempo characteristics of old, replaced by a more conservative, packed-in style that eschewed turnovers in favor of challenged shots. Romar stuck with that idea in the offseason, and it looks like it's paying off.

"This team plays defense an entirely different way," he said Sunday. "We try to contain the ball and not give you a whole lot of layups. ... We have more shot-blockers as opposed to last year when we were so small that if you got near the rim we wouldn’t make you pay for it. But this year we make you pay for it."

Washington didn't morph into Kentucky in the matter of one offseason. And San Diego State, even when it was rolling with Xavier Thames at the helm last season, had plenty of issues scoring the ball on its own -- SDSU won 2013-14's 31 games with top-10 efficiency defense. Without Thames, those offensive woes have increased. The how for Sunday night's score lies somewhere in the middle: Very good defense, horrific offense.

So it is with the fluke question. Despite those awful numbers, it's not a hard yes; Washington genuinely does look improved. Romar said Sunday that his players were "tired of being mediocre," and that ethic is almost visible in their play (especially compared to last season). But are the Huskies this good overall? Can they sustain enough of this performance to get back to the NCAA tournament? Maybe we'll know more after Dec. 20, when UW plays Oklahoma on a neutral court. Maybe we won't know until January. But that we're asking the question at all represents a step forward for a Washington program that desperately needed to take one.