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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona Wildcats and Washington Huskies ready for fight

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Rebecca Noble

Arizona men’s basketball guard T.J. McConnell (4) searches for a teammate to pass to during Arizona’s 81-78 loss to ASU at Wells Fargo Arena on Feb. 7. McConnell and the Wildcats head to Washington for weekend matchups with Washington and Washington State.

Arizona men’s basketball is traveling across the country to face a reeling Washington side desperate for a win. Friday at 7:05 p.m. on ESPN, the No. 7 Wildcats (20-3, 8-2 Pac-12 Conference) play Washington in Seattle. 

“I think it’s [particularly] tough for Arizona just cause of the incredible distance that we cover,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “When you look at the Pacific Northwest and where we are here in Southern Arizona, it takes some time to get there.”

Arizona has beaten the Huskies (14-9, 3-8) three times in a row, but UW has won five of the last six matchups in Seattle. Washington is 7-4 at home this season.

The Huskies opened the season 11-0, matching coach Lorenzo Romar’s best start.

“That’s why winning a conference championship and competing in a conference is so difficult,” Miller said. “It’s these types of moments that define the type of season that you have.” 

The Huskies have fallen on hard times since they dismissed Robert Upshaw, the national leader in blocks, on Jan. 26. ESPN reported that Upshaw, who came to Washington from Fresno State, failed multiple drug tests at both schools. Upshaw averaged 10.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.4 blocks a game.

“Every once in a while with your best attempt, it doesn’t work out, but I know this: that Robert Upshaw is probably a better person having gone to Washington,” Miller said.

The Huskies have lost four games in a row since Upshaw was kicked off the team. They’ve lost five in a row overall but before that had won three in a row.

“He had a lot to do with Washington’s success,” Miller said. “You don’t just relinquish that talented a player and stay the same; there has to be a growing process.”

Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell said losing Upshaw is a big hit for the Huskies, but Washington is a tough place to play and the Wildcats need to feel like they’re in trouble after they lost to ASU.

After losing to UNLV, the Wildcats beat ASU 73-49, and after it defeat at Oregon State, Arizona won six in a row. The UA’s road record is 4-3 this season.

“We just have to come with the mindset that we’re kind of cornered,” McConnell said. “We play our best when we play that, when no one thinks we’re going to win, and we just got to go in there with that mindset.”

Since losing the 7-foot Upshaw, the Huskies have gone small.

“They’ve reshuffled the deck: They play five guards, they play four guards and one big,” Miller said. “They’re finding themselves, but I’m sure they’ll find their stride at some point this year. I just hope it’s not against us.”

Guards Andrew Andrews and Nigel Williams-Goss have scored or assisted on 74.6 percent of the Huskies’ points since Upshaw’s departure. Both are averaging over 38 minutes per game in Washington’s last six games. 

Forward Shawn Kemp Jr. is third in the Pac-12 in shooting percentage (62.2) and is second all-time on UW’s career list with a percentage of 57.2.

“They are very quick; they switch a lot, both on and off the ball,” Miller said. “They play one true post player, Shawn Kemp, who’s really improved throughout his career.”

The Wildcats could face the little Huskies without their smallest rotation player, backup point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who suffered a concussion. The Arizona Daily Star reported Jackson-Cartwright made the trip but it is unclear if he will play.

However, Miller said on Tuesday that the freshman is getting closer to playing.

“If there were rungs on a ladder, he’s near the top, ready to climb on the roof,” Miller said. “It’s just that [it] takes two days, four days, five days — we’re not sure.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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