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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Judgment weekend


Losing big games — say, games for conference leads — on the road can be a youthful college basketball team’s most vulnerable moment. For Arizona, that came during a late January trip to play the Washington Huskies.

But when the Wildcats dropped the game by 17 points in Seattle, rather than questioning themselves, they instead guaranteed to rally around one another. They did, recapturing a tenacity and focus to win at Washington State, 65-63, two days later.

They haven’t lost since. Players called it a turning point.

“”Even though we lost at Washington, in our mind, we could have won the game,”” point guard Momo Jones said, citing Arizona’s dissolved team game in the final minutes. “”We don’t want to lose at all. Going to Washington State, that’s a tough place to play also — with their crowd and the atmosphere. They took us down to the wire.

“”Just us being together as a team kind of got us over the hump.””

Saturday’s ESPN GameDay-snubbed match-up with preseason conference favorite Washington looms for Arizona (21-4, 10-2 Pacific 10 Conference), but the

Wildcats will first do battle with Washington State at 6:30 tonight in McKale Center, looking to sweep the Cougars on the year before exacting revenge against the Huskies.

If anything, this week gives Arizona a chance to prove how far it’s come in less than a month.

“”To me, leaving that (Washington State) game, it continued to feed our team with confidence,”” UA head coach Sean Miller said. “”It wasn’t like the ship was broke.

Sometimes it’s those games that can really turn your season into a special one.””

As with Washington (17-7, 9-4 Pac-10), conquering WSU (17-8, 7-6 Pac-10) won’t be an easy task. Squelching Pac-10 scoring leader Klay Thompson will be Arizona’s focus.

The streaky shooter averages 20.6 points per game, just above UA forward Derrick Williams’ 19.2 points per outing. In Pullman, Wash., Thompson was hounded by Arizona guard Kyle Fogg and limited to 4-for-16 field goal shooting and nine points.

“”I think he brings a big spark to their team,”” forward Solomon Hill said of Thompson. “”Once he gets going, you never know who else can get going. He rubs off.

“”He’s a dangerous scorer. Klay’s always that guy who’s going to keep them in a game.””

Thompson has help, too. UA head coach Sean Miller called Cougar forward DeAngelo Casto one of the top five defensive stoppers in the league. He will surely be WSU’s key in stopping Williams from having a field day, and that’s not to mention the 6-foot-8, 255 pound bruiser’s scoring around the basket.

All will be on the mind of Miller, who expects to see WSU head coach Ken Bone heavily rely upon a 2-3 zone defense, the usual tactic for opposing teams to hinder Arizona and especially Williams.

And win or lose against the Cougars, the game against Washington on Saturday carries equal importance as any of the other five remaining contests.

“”Getting through the weekend to see where everybody is at that point, to me with four games left,”” Miller said, “”it’ll be a little clearer if you’re in a good position or not.””

Promise from UW

Picked to win the conference, Washington fell into a three-game tailspin and allowed the Wildcats to take claim of first place.

Led by usually-cocky point guard Isaiah Thomas, the Huskies perhaps let a little hubris get to them before the league slate began, saying they’d go undefeated in Pac-10 play.

“”I think it kind of backfired on them, saying they’re going to go 18-0 in conference, they’re not going to lose, this and that,”” Williams said. “”They’re a great team at home. But when they go on the road, they’re not as successful.

“”I think that’s the difference between us. We don’t have a significant drop-off on offense and defense when we’re on the road,”” he added. “”We are the No. 1 team to beat right now.””

Confident words from Williams were more handily explained by his head coach, who also gave a more objective warning.

“”I think the lesson you pick up is it is difficult to win in a conference, on the road, consistently,”” Miller said.

He added: “”It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they didn’t play their best basketball at this time.””

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