Last year's contest against the Huskies was without question the best home game of the Sean Miller era due in large part to one of the iconic moments in program history when Derrick Williams saved the game with his blocked shot with less than a second remaining.
This year's contest may not have as much riding on it, but it promises to be a battle from start to finish. In his 10th season with the Huskies, head coach Lorenzo Romar has his team currently sitting in a four-way tie for first place in the Pac-12 with California, Oregon and Colorado with its 6-2 conference record.
For the year Romar's team is 13-7, and while losses to teams like Duke and Marquette are acceptable, defeats at the hands of Nevada and South Dakota State are not and highlight the inconsistency of the Huskies this season. UW is 2-5 in games away from Seattle but they enter Saturday's game winners of eight of their last ten contests.
It all starts for Washington with highly-touted freshman Tony Wroten, who has lived up to expectations and far exceeded them in his first season. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard came to Seattle as the fourth best point guard and 19th ranked player overall in the class of 2011, ranking only behind Marquis Teague (Kentucky), Myck Kabongo (Texas), and Arizona's own Josiah Turner.
From a numbers standpoint Wroten is outperforming all three players ranked ahead of him, as he's second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 17.1 points per game. While he's shot just 19.4 percent from three-point range, Wroten is shooting 49.6 percent overall and has been virtually unstoppable when he drives the ball to the basket.
In Pac-12 play he has been even better with an average of 17.8 points, 3.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. Simply put, Wroten is going to fill out the stat sheet and make a huge impact on any contest he plays in.
The freshman is also the team leader in steals and is second in assists with 3.4 per contest. While the matchup between Wroten and Turner is one basketball fans everywhere are looking forward to seeing, Kyle Fogg will likely draw the defensive assignment and his performance against the UW freshman will be critical in deciding the game.
Handling the ball for the Huskies is a familiar name for Arizona fans, as Abdul Gaddy is back from the ACL injury that ended his sophomore year early a season ago. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior, who twice committed and de-committed to Arizona before signing with Washington, is one of the leading assist men in the Pac-12 with 4.6 per outing.
Gaddy is critical to what UW wants to do offensively and is the orchestrator of the offense and in a team-leading 33.7 minutes per game, he's fourth on the team with 8.7 points per contest. While he may not be quite the player he may have developed into before the injury, Gaddy is playing at a high level as a junior and will undoubtedly be looking to put on a show in front of the crowd he spurned on two occasions as a high school player.
It's arguable that no player on UW's roster, or the Pac-12 for that matter, is more talented than 6-foot-6, 195-pound sophomore Terrence Ross. A Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 selection a year ago, Ross has the potential to be a lottery pick whenever he decides to go pro due to his athleticism, shooting ability and overall skill set.
Ross is the Huskies' second leading scorer and rebounder at 15.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game; including an average of 15.4 points in eight Pac-12 games. He's the team's second best three-point shooter at 37.9 percent while shooting 43.8 percent from the field overall.
With Fogg likely drawing Wroten, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Kevin Parrom play significant minutes defending Ross. Parrom has the size and quickness to defend Ross and more importantly would allow for Fogg, the team's best defender, to matchup against Washington's best scorer.
While Washington has undoubtedly the top backcourt in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the country, its front court is not nearly as good. Desmonds Simmons will likely start at the ‘four' position, but the 6-foot-7, 220-pound redshirt-freshman is averaging just 5.6 points and 5.8 points in 21.1 minutes per game. With all of the offense generated by Ross and Wroten, Simmons simply doesn't get very many chances and against a small Arizona team Simmons may slide over to the ‘five' or simply play very few minutes at all.
At center the Huskies have the Pac-12's second-leading rebounder in 7-foot, 260-pound junior Aziz N'Diaye. To go along with his 8.1 rebounds N'Diaye averages 8.2 points on 53 percent shooting to the field. The pace of Saturday's game is likely to be fast and furious and like Simmons, N'Diaye's minutes may be in jeopardy as a result.
If N'Diaye is unable to keep up, the much more agile Darnell Gant will likely fill the void in the paint. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound senior is forever etched in Arizona history for being the victim of Williams' famed block and he'll be looking to leave a more pleasant memory for Husky fans in the 2011-12 version of the game at McKale.
Gant has appeared in all 20 of the team's games, starting 14, and is sixth for UW with a scoring average of 7.8 points in 23.2 minutes per game. Due to the fact that he's much better suited for the pace of the game, look for Gant to exceed his season average in minutes.
Washington has one of the premier shooters in the Pac-12 in sophomore C.J. Wilcox, who came off the bench last year at McKale to score 19 points on 7-11 shooting, including 4-8 from three-point range. However, the former All-Pac-12 Freshman Team selection has been battling a fractured left femur that gives him pain in his hip and has been limited as a result this season.
He's missed three games due to the injury, but in 17 games Wilcox is the team's third leading scorer at 14.8 points per contest on 43.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc and 41.8 percent shooting from the field overall.
It's unknown how much Romar will allow Wilcox to play due to his injury, but his shooting ability may be too much to keep out of the lineup if the game is close. The 6-foot-5, 185-pound sophomore will likely push for all the minutes his coach will give him and he gives the Huskies their own version of Brendon Lavender off the bench.
The Huskies got a big boost on January 9th when the football team's Freshman All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins announced he would walk on to the basketball team. The 6-foot-6, 258-pound freshman recorded 41 catches for 538 yards and six touchdowns on the gridiron and has been serviceable in two games on the hardwood so far this season.
While Seferian-Jenkins is averaging just two points per game, he is averaging six rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. It would not be a surprise to see the freshman big man play a big role in Saturday's game due to his strength and his athleticism, and after recording just one catch for 14 yards against the Wildcats in football, he will certainly be looking for a better stat line in his first basketball showdown versus UA.
Last year's ‘Whiteout Game' was just one of many lasting memories that have emerged from the 2010-11 season. While this year's version features far less talent, there is still plenty on the line.
On the floor Washington and Arizona are beginning to emerge as the powers in the Pac-12 and as a result a rivalry is brewing between the two schools and another exciting game would go a long ways in pushing that rivalry forward.
In the standings, the Cats and the Dawgs are separated by just one game with 10 to go, and each team would benefit greatly with a victory in a wide-open Pac-12 conference.
Finally, Romar and Miller are locked in a recruiting battle for some of the class of 2013's best talent; including Aaron Gordon, Jabari Bird and Stephen Domingo amongst others. A win over the other would give the victorious coach a boost on the recruiting trail and be a boost to each man's hopes for a strong class in 2013.
With the eyes of the nation on Tucson on ESPN at 5pm MST there certainly is plenty at stake both on and off the floor. The excitement has been building and the stage has been set; the only thing left to do is play the game.