Game 13: January 4, 2007
Arena: Edmundson Pavilion
Washington's youth was on display in Los Angeles and what they showed was that this team will have difficulty winning on the road during the first half of conference play. Despite their size, quickness, and scoring ability, many of the Huskies are still learning how to play this game at such a competitive level – a lesson not so easily learned at times as evidenced by their 86-79 upset loss to USC and then their 96-74 shellacking at the hands of UCLA.
Part of the learning curve is adapting to the Pac-10's Thursday/Saturday format which provides road teams little time to recover in between games. Washington's emotional overtime loss to the Trojans clearly affected their play on Sunday against the Bruins. Sure, the rare Sunday game gave them one extra day of practice but losing they way they did to USC would have been a hard pill to swallow for any team, but especially one that features nine freshman and sophomores and only two seniors.
For Arizona, the Wildcats keep rolling along. Stanford proved to be a formidable foe but in watching that game at no point did I think the Cardinal had a chance of winning. When things got close, Arizona's Mustafa Shakur simply took over by attacking the basket for easy lay-ins or by driving and creating easy scoring opportunities for his teammates. Shakur finished with nine assists and 18 points on 6 of 8 shooting. Fans watching the Cal and Stanford games also were treated to the reemergence of Arizona's super soph Marcus Williams. Williams finished the weekend 18 of 24 from the field, making all eight of his shot attempts against the Golden Bears. His standout performance earned Williams the Player to Watch spot in Andy Katz's ESPN weekly column.
Against Washington, Arizona will need Williams, a Seattle high school product, to play well. Williams has had foul difficulties of late, which has kept him on the bench more than he and Coach Olson would like. Williams will be relied upon for his rebounding as much as his scoring as the taller and huskier Huskies will present a formidable challenge. The key though will be the play of Chase Budinger and Jawann McClellan. Both had ho-hum games against Stanford and tonight will be expected to pick it up. J-Mac was held to only four points and no rebounds while Chase, a.k.a. Wind, was virtually grounded against Stanford's seven foot Lopez twins.
Here's how I think the teams will play this one out:
Washington literally played no defense against UCLA and if they give the same defensive effort Thursday and allow the Wildcats to run their offense then look out as Arizona could drop a C-note on them faster than the boys from Entourage in an L.A. nightclub. Arizona's starting five continue to all average double digits in points while the team is beginning to receive steady contributions from its role players. Hill may see more minutes against the taller Huskies, but how he plays early will dictate whether or not he stays on the floor. The up tempo pace may also afford Wise more minutes as none of Washington's guards will give this freshman trouble. If he can limit the bad shots and play within the offense, he has the stroke to hit the many open threes that may come his way if he's on the floor.
Washington as a team never met a shot they didn't like. Despite their propensity to shoot early in the shot clock, they still manage to make a respectable 48.6 percent of their field goals (third behind Arizona's league leading 51.8 percent). It took more than a handful of games, but a couple of stellar performances by Pac-10 player of the year candidate Spencer Hawes now has the freshman leading the Huskies in scoring with 16.5 points per game. His frontcourt mate, Jon Brockman, is averaging 12.2 points per game while compiling a team leading 10.2 boards a night. The two will present a significant challenge for Arizona if the Huskies are patient enough to work the ball inside. Justin Dentmon's play at the point will be a key for UW as well as the team's bench play as the Huskies truly go 10 players deep.
OFFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
There is no doubt Arizona is the better offensive team. They can score from anywhere on the court whether they are running or gunning or picking and popping in their half court sets. The crowd noise may be a factor in this game as I expect Washington to play zone a good portion of the night to prevent Arizona from getting mismatches by forcing Hawes and Brockman to defend out on the perimeter. Washington has played pretty lazy defense thus far and if Arizona can remain patient and make the extra pass, their outside shooters could get open looks all night long. In the open court, few have been better than Shakur. Dentmon, Appleby or even Pondexter should be no match for Shakur on the defensive end so look for Shakur to continue to penetrate, dish and take the open shot when it' s there. I think both teams will score, but I expect Arizona to get more stops in the end.
Arizona has played zone almost all season and will again do so tonight. However, Washington has the outside shooters to make the Wildcats play if they don't rotate well so look for Arizona to take advantage of their quickness and incorporate more man defense throughout the course of the game. If they can pressure Appleby high, the white-haired sniper should not be able to create his own shot no matter who's guarding him. Similarly, Dentmon is of little threat from more than 10 feet out. Arizona's lack of consistent rebounding out of the zone against Stanford forced them to play man most of the second half and the rebounding duo of Brockman and Hawes might have the same effect. The only speed Washington has faced this season that's even remotely comparable to Arizona's is from UCLA and USC and we know how those games turned out.
Lorenzo Romar is too good of a coach to let his team skate walk through another game playing the kind of defense they played last weekend. With their height and their quickness, there's no reason to think that their zone defense could not be one of the most formidable in the country. The trouble with defense of any kind though is it's only as good as the weakest link and when Appleby is on the floor, or when Hawes or Brockman are forced to defend away from the basket, there are chinks in the chain in more places than one. This leads to defensive breakdowns and easy buckets for opponents. USC and UCLA both passed the ball crisply against the Huskies who were too slow to keep up, eventually leading to open looks. Both the Trojans and the Bruins knocked down their fair share of those shots and that was that. Expect Washington to play harder than they have on Thursday but also expect Arizona to rise to the challenge and shoot well from the floor as they most oftentimes do in Seattle.
DEFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
Arizona had some breakdowns against Stanford which allowed the Cardinal's hot shooting to keep them in the game for the first 35 minutes. The Wildcats kept at it though and finally had their way in the closing minutes of an impressive victory. Washington will be tough to defend at home as the crowd there is one of the loudest in the conference, if not the country. What's more is that coming off the sweep at the hands of the L.A. schools, this is now a desperate team looking to break into the conference win column. A victory over the Wildcats would virtually guarantee a weekend sweep as they welcome in the cellar dweller Sun Devils on Saturday. Still, Arizona's defense for the season has been better than Washington's and should remain that way come tomorrow. Arizona knows they can score the basketball but Olson knows that winning on the road in hostile environments is all about defense. If Arizona defends for 40 minutes, there's no reason they should lose this game.
Arizona always looks like they're getting killed on the boards – and then you look at the stat sheet and they're even or have an advantage over their opponents. Stanford probably did the best job against the Wildcats in this category and considering that Washington also has two very good big men who also play at the same time it's not too farfetched to think that UW might experience the same good fortune that the Cardinal did. Arizona is averaging 39.7 rebounds per game with Radenovic (7.4) getting the slight edge over teammate Williams (7.2). The key against Washington is how well Budinger boards. The frosh is averaging 5.5 rebounds per game, but has clearly not been the same aggressive player on the boards as he was just four games ago.
Washington, like so many other Arizona opponents this season, will shoot quickly and then send four guys to the offensive boards. They'll look to tip the ball to teammates if they can't snag the ball themselves for easy put backs. The more havoc they create, the better. Washington is averaging a league leading 42.5 rebounds per game with just over 16 coming on the offensive glass per contest. That stat alone is enough to make Wildcat fans cringe.
REBOUNDING EDGE: ARIZONA
Like I said before Arizona's game against Memphis, it's too hard to predict which team will win this category tonight because both attack the boards from all five positions on the floor well. And like I also previously said, the key is to watch and see which team is actually trying to box out their opponents as opposed to simply trying to out jump everyone. Right now I think Arizona is the more disciplined team and knowing that the one way to surely lose Thursday would be to let Washington go nuts on the offensive boards, I think you'll see the better defensive rebounding effort coming from the Wildcats than the Huskies.
Don't be surprised to see Arizona trailing most of the first half. The crowd will be fired up and make no mistake about it, this is a desperate Washington team. Although they can surely recover from a 0-3 conference start since the second half of their schedule is back loaded with several key home games, they'll be doing everything in their power to avoid opening conference play with three straight losses.
When Arizona goes zone, look for Washington to put Appleby and Hawes on the same side of the court to work the inside/out game. They'll do this more for Appleby's sake than Hawes' as I'm convinced Hawes will have little trouble finding points tonight. The key is to get Appleby off. If he's stroking the three then it will be virtually impossible for Arizona to double team Hawes in the post and the result could mean a loss for the Wildcats.
Arizona did a fine job in fronting the post against the taller and bigger Stanford Cardinal on Saturday as both of the Lopez twins struggled to score over the Wildcats. Where they ran into trouble was being able to quickly get inside their man to box out and secure rebounds once shots were taken. The result was a lot of tipped balls around the basket and easy put backs that enabled Stanford to keep things close. Tonight, Arizona knows that winning the rebounding edge might be the most important aspect of this game because nothing will help to stoke the fiery crowd at Edmundson Pavilion than second chance points.
Since the game will be up-tempo anyway, look for Arizona to send all five defenders to the glass. How well Shakur, McClellan and even Dillon off the bench rebound could go a long way in determining tonight's winner. Plus, if Shakur is able to grab the rebound there might not be a better point guard in the country who can go coast to coast right now than the tall, long and lightning quick Shakur.
Once Arizona settles into the game, expect the Wildcats to get enough easy baskets to keep things close heading into the second frame. After the break, they'll look to use their team quickness to exploit the taller, but slower Huskies which should result in foul trouble for Washington.
In the end, this game won't be quite as close as last year's thriller in Seattle but it will be as fun to watch as both of these teams are capable of putting on a great show.
ARIZONA 91 UW 83