SALT LAKE CITY — The name “Vasa” can conjure images of impressive fortitude, as it’s been used throughout history as the given name for awe-inspiring beings, objects and more.
In one prominent example, Vasa was a Swedish warship that sailed in the first half of the 17th century. The behemoth of a ship, measuring 172 feet tall by 226 feet long, is now housed in a museum in Stockholm.
As the Kansas Jayhawks will soon find out, it’s also the name of the biggest weapon for the Northeastern Huskies men’s basketball team.
Redshirt-senior guard Vasa Pusica leads Northeastern in scoring this year at 17.8 points per game while shooting an efficient 49.7 percent from the floor. Part of that is his sharpshooting ability from beyond the arc, which has helped him shoot 39.9 percent from deep this season and 39.7 percent overall for his career, spanning stints at both Northeastern and San Diego.
It isn’t just Pusica who shoots the lights out, though; the Huskies as a collective are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country.
“That’s who we are. We have multiple guys in the team that are shooting good percentages and can make it,” Pusica said on Wednesday. “We are not focused on that, we are trying to play our game, we will try to get easy open looks. Obviously, we probably need to make some against Kansas tomorrow, but we are not worried about it. We are trying to play our game and see what’s open out there.”
As a team, Northeastern is shooting 38.8 percent for the season, which is in the top 15 in the nation. For coach Bill Coen, making his second appearance in the NCAA tournament with the Huskies, playing at a pace that matches up with Northeastern’s typical game is crucial for them to keep it competitive on Thursday against Kansas.
“I think we have to be opportunistic, right? We don’t want to be so, so slow where they can just kind of overwhelm us in the half-court set,” Coen said. “We’ve always been a really good transition team but we don’t run every time. We have to pick our spots and we have an advantage … we have to put that to use and use our quick-strike offense for quick three or an easy bucket.”
Three-point defense has been a struggle for the Jayhawks all season long, which theoretically bodes well for a Huskies team that shoots them at a 25-shots-per-game pace. The toughest one-on-one matchup in terms of talent that the Huskies have faced all season could be in Thursday’s game, however, when they have to figure out a way to stop Kansas junior forward Dedric Lawson.
Junior guard Bolden Brace, who will likely match up with Lawson the most, said the Big 12 newcomer of the year can do almost anything on the court.
“He plays really smooth, he’s really skilled,” Brace said in regard to Lawson. “He’s going to be a tough matchup but I think we’re going to do our best to get the job done.”
Kansas and Northeastern will tip off on Thursday around 3:00 central time, following the Auburn versus New Mexico State game.
Click here to hear from the Northeastern players and coach Bill Coen ahead of Thursday’s game.