Time: 9 p.m. Tucson time
Location: Olson Court, McKale Center (14,538), Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: IMG College/Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries/Matt Muehlebach) [Sirius/XM: 91/91]
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Pasch/Bill Walton)
Arizona has received understandable criticism from fans after lackluster performances at McKale Center against UCLA in the first half and Cal in the second half that led to two of the Wildcats’ four defeats. With Washington — always a tough test in Tucson and Seattle — playing at McKale Center tonight, the UA must use its home court as an advantage, not a distraction or reason to be overconfident. The Wildcats will try to avoid their third loss in McKale, which surprisingly has happened more often than not in recent years. The Wildcats lost four games at McKale Center last season after going 17-0 at McKale in the Elite Eight season of 2010-11. The Wildcats lost five games at home in Sean Miller’s first season of 2009-10. They lost three at home under interim coach Russ Pennell in 2008-09 and five in Kevin O’Neill’s year as the interim head coach in 2007-08. Lute Olson lost four times at McKale Center in his last season of 2006-07. This is all foreign to Matt Muehlebach, who will serve as color commentator for the Wildcat Radio Network tonight. Muehlebach never lost a game at McKale Center — a 64-0 record between 1987-91. With the game starting at 9 p.m., Tucson time, the energy of Arizona’s fans will be put to the test. How will the crowd respond?
Good note from Arizona sports information specialist Richard Paige: Of the 17 players to see action in Washington 69-67 win over Arizona last season in Tucson, only nine of those players return this season. Arizona (Solomon Hill/Nick Johnson/Kevin Parrom/Jordin Mayes/Angelo Chol) returns 37 points and 12 rebounds from that game, while Washington (Desmond Simmons/Aziz N’Diaye/Abdul Gaddy/C.J. Wilcox) returns 32 points and 17 boards. Arizona lost freshman Josiah Turner (who opted to play professionally first in Hungary and then Canada after announcing a transfer to SMU) and Kyle Fogg, Brendon Lavender and Jesse Perry (all of whom exhausted their eligibility). Washington’s most significant losses were Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten to the NBA after completing their sophomore seasons. Ross won the NBA All-Star Game Slam Dunk Competition last weekend.
Wilcox broke out of his shooting slump in Washington’s 72-62 win over visiting Oregon State on Saturday. The Huskies had lost three straight and dropped seven of eight overall, coinciding with Wilcox’s slump. The Huskies’ leading scorer had scored more than 20 points just once in the previous eight games before tallying 24 against the Beavers. He made 7 of 14 shots from the field, including 3 of 8 from three-point range. Wilcox, a junior who was hot from the field in Washington’s 4-0 league start, has been bothered by a left foot injury that has limited his practice time. Wilcox was 31 of 60 from the field, including 11 of 23 from three-point range, when the Huskies started 4-0. He made only 38 of 109 from the field (13 of 44 from beyond the arc) in the eight games afterward leading up to the Oregon State game. Despite his slump, Wilcox still leads the Pac-12 with 2.3 three-pointers a game.
Johnson is also in a slump but he is making up for his shooting woes by coming up with steals and distributing the ball with minimal turnovers. Johnson has not scored in double figures since posting 15 points at Washington on Jan. 31. In the last five games, Johnson has a 4.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover
ratio. He did not commit a turnover in three games. The Wildcats overall are taking better care of the ball, averaging 11 turnovers in their last five games. Miller has told the media that 12 turnovers or less are ideal for his team. Defensively, Johnson’s team-leading 54 steals ranks second in the Pac-12. He is also second on the team in blocked shots in conference games with 12 (behind Grant Jerrett’s 14), which is uncommon by a shooting guard.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar is in his 11th season as the Huskies’ coach and it appears as though he will miss the NCAA tournament for the fifth time during his tenure (unless the Huskies make a miraculous run through the Pac-12 tournament). With the Huskies’ record 14-12 this is the sixth season out of the last seven in which the Huskies have double-digit defeats in a season. Romar’s record at Washington is 233-125, which averages a record of 21.2 wins and 11.4 losses each season. Arizona fans loathe Romar because he is one of the most successful against the Wildcats and Miller. The Huskies are trying to avoid a sweep by Arizona tonight, something the Wildcats have done just twice against Romar (2003 and 2007). Since Romar has been at Washington, he has managed to go 13-11 against the Wildcats. Romar holds a 5-3 advantage against Miller.
The last time Arizona and Washington met on Jan. 31 the teams combined to make only 4 of 30 three-point attempts. The Wildcats were 3-of-18, a season-low 16.7 percent. Arizona has shot 30 percent or worse in five conference games, including the last two at Colorado and Utah. The UA combined to make 11 of 41 three-point attempts in those games. In Pac-12 games, Johnson (29.7 percent), Parrom (26.3) and Mayes (11.1) have particularly struggled from behind the arc. Conference opponents are out-shooting the Wildcats 37.7 percent to 32.4 percent from three-point range. That’s all the more reason why Arizona should not resort to that shot if the offense breaks down. The Wildcats should be aggressive by taking the ball to the basket, get high percentage shots and/or draw some fouls.
— Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com writes about Parrom getting another start for the Wildcats against Washington.
— Steve Rivera of FoxSportsArizona.com writes about the Wildcats needing to step up their perimeter defense.
— Bruce Pascoe of The Arizona Daily Star offers his informational pre-game stuff.
— Percy Allen of the Seattle Times offers his scouting report of Arizona
PAC-12 RPI ASSESSMENT
RPI based on CBSSports.com
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*-Wins vs. Top 50 teams
**-Losses vs. Top 100 teams or higher
SOS-Strength of schedule
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner