Considering Washington’s conference long struggles, it’s easy to forget that Arizona only beat the Huskies by three points back in February. During that same home stand for Washington, the Huskies also fell to Arizona State 87-83. Two close home losses to the desert southwest schools became part of a bigger nine-game conference skid for Washington. Interestingly, Washington figured out a way to turn the tables on ASU on Thursday in Tempe by upsetting the Sun Devils on the road. A similar showing in Tucson on Saturday night is something only the basketball gods could dream up, but it could happen.
For Arizona (20-10, 10-7 Pac-12), following Thursday night’s 83-62 win over Washington State with a dud tonight would be par for the course for a team that continues to struggle in sustaining a high level of play. Even against the Cougars, Arizona struggled to score the basketball during the game’s opening 20 minutes before exploding and running off 26 unanswered points to blow out visiting WSU. The second half was beyond impressive, but overall it was yet another game where Arizona simply couldn’t put together a complete game of efficient basketball.
The good news is Arizona did play well on defense for 40 minutes. The other good news is how the team stuck to its offensive game plan and finally saw the same shots they were taking and missing in the first half fall through the net in the second half.
Like any game played during the month of March, season long statistics must be taken with a grain of salt. While teams do ultimately tend to play to their averages, the X Factor is the win or go home mentality that tends to make the underdogs play better and the favorites feel pressure.
Washington (14-16, 4-13 Pac-12) literally has nothing to lose on Saturday. Win or lose tonight, Washington will travel to Las Vegas next week as the No. 12 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. Meanwhile, Arizona needs to not only win tonight, but they also need UCLA to beat crosstown rival USC today in order for the Wildcats to earn a coveted first round bye in the conference tournament. Anything short of that and Arizona could very well be playing this same Huskies team on Wednesday in Sin City.
Adding a bit more pressure to the situation is the fact that the UCLA-USC result will be known before the Wildcats tip against the Huskies at McKale Center. If USC falls, Arizona knows that its own victory will earn them a first round bye. If the Trojans upset the Bruins, then there’s a chance of a letdown effort by the Wildcats.
How these mentally fragile Wildcats handle the situation will tell us everything.
The Huskies will run zone almost all game, mixing in some full court pressure to try and get Arizona’s offense taking shots late in the shot clock. Offensively, the Huskies play pretty wide open, which is not always a good thing unless they get hot from the floor.
Similar to Arizona’s 75-72 win in Seattle, Arizona needs to grind it out on defense, control the defensive glass, and find scoring opportunities in the first 15 seconds of the shot clock to attack the Huskies before that zone defense gets set. It’s not a great defense, but it does feature a lot of length and quickness designed to harass jump shooters and double team interior scorers. Dribble penetration, purposeful passing, and a hot shooting hand or two will be required to breakdown Washington and get them chasing the basketball rather than anticipating where the ball is going next.
The Wildcats are double digit favorites and a perfect 12-0 this season when scoring 80 or more points. If it’s close, Arizona is just 3-6 in games decided by five points or less.