EUGENE, Ore. -- Joshua Smith's on-again, off-again relationship with the starting lineup is currently off, and this time it has nothing to do with foul trouble.
Smith, averaging 9.7 points per game and a significant presence on the offensive end, has come off the bench the last three games after starting the previous six and coach Ben Howland said it's because Smith's defense is lagging.
"Right now, Josh has got to help us more than he’s doing right now defensively," Howland said. "He’s got to be more of a presence for us in there on the defensive end of the floor. We know when he’s in there and we’re trying to get him the ball offensively, but we need him to step up and play better defense for us."
Howland pointed out that Smith, a 6-foot-10, 305-pound center, has no blocked shots in five conference games. In comparison, backup Anthony Stover has seven blocks in Pac-12 games despite playing less than half the minutes as Smith. Travis Wear, starting in place of Smith the last four games, has six blocked shots in conference games.
Howland said Smith's ongoing conditioning issues were "a big part" of his defensive deficiencies. Thursday against Oregon State, the Beavers' starting post players combined to score 33 points on 14-for-21 shooting and Howland called out his post defense after the game.
"We got hurt today at the post," he said. "I thought Stover was the one guy who gave us good post presence defensively. He was the one guy."
Howland brought Smith off the bench most of last season after Smith showed a tendency to pick up early fouls and began the season doing the same. Things changed in mid-December and Smith started six consecutive games, including the first two Pac-12 games.
He sat out against Arizona because of a concussion, and has come off the bench ever since. Howland wouldn't say if the move was permanent, saying only he needed to see defensive improvement by Smith.
"It's just focusing on it, getting his knees bent and playing in his stance," Howland said.
Howland also said he was toying with the idea of playing Stover more minutes. Stover, who brings the defensive energy Howland likes but is limited as an offensive player, is averaging only 8.3 minutes a game.
"Stove did a good job when he was in there," Howland said. "He’s played minutes in each of our last few games. He gave us a defensive presence when he was in the game so it’s definitely something to continue to look at."