#9 ARIZONA (14-2, 24-4) at #14 WASHINGTON (12-3, 22-4) Bank of America Arena – Saturday, February 26 1:00 PM (FSN) Last meeting: January 27, 2005 (at Tucson) - UA 91, UW 82 Series in Seattle: Arizona leads, 14-12 Overall Series: Arizona leads, 37-18
As Arizona coach Lute Olson puts it, "it's ‘title season' now. Keep winning each game and you win titles. Lose and you go home. It's that way from here on out."
Then, with a smile, "We're used to playing in these types of games."
Indeed they have. The Wildcats are looking for their 11th PAC-10 regular season title in Olson's 22 seasons at Tucson. And the Hall-of-Fame coach welcomes the expected din from a fired-up DawgPack. "We play better when there is a lot of noise," Olson feels, "regardless of who the noise is for."
Olson, who equaled John Wooden's all-time mark of 304 conference victories with Thursday's overtime gut-wrencher over Washington State, comes into the game higher on his team that at any point this season. "I'm happy at this point with the way we are defending and communicating," he states. "Guys have been very alert and quick to the ball. We're getting good shots and as a result of that we are shooting very well percentage-wise."
"As a team, I think we're playing our best basketball at both ends of the floor right now. I feel very good about our team."
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar knows there will be ample wattage in the arena similar to last year's driving win over (then) top-ranked Stanford, but feels there's a much deeper importance tied to Saturday's outcome. "Against Stanford we were already going to be second," says Romar, "and so that win just sort of solidified our place in the tournament."
"This time, we're still playing for first in the conference. We're playing for a high seed in the NCAA. We're playing to go unbeaten at home. And (in Romar's tenure) we've never lost on Senior day."
Indeed, it promises to be a special day for Will Conroy, Tre Simmons, Hakeem Rollins, and Alex Johnson – most notably Conroy, who's been at Washington the full four years and seen his team go from the basement to nearly the pinnacle. It's an apt setting that Conroy's last home game – where he could set school records in both season and career assists - is also perhaps the most important Husky home game in 20 years.
It was an emotional first meeting in Tucson, and in front of a rowdier-than-usual Wildcat faithful the Huskies started fast - eventually building an 11-point lead late in the first half before Arizona found a rainbow from the charity stripe. Before it was over, the ‘Cats would hit 31 freebies in a row that helped negate a 38-29 Washington rebounding advantage. Stoudamire and Frye combined for 43 points, including 17-17 from the free-throw line. Brandon Roy led the Dawgs with 15 points on 5-for-14 shooting. The rest of his mates weren't much better – Washington only shot 32 percent from the field in the second half. Still, it was only a three-point game in the final minute before Arizona put it away on Stoudamire's marvelous – and conventional - three-point play.
There will be some serious adrenaline pumping when the teams hit the floor on Saturday for the boisterous opening tip. But coach Olson cautions, "You can't play this game with just your emotions. If you are not under control mentally, you are not going to be in control physically."
It remains to be seen if the ol' coach's advice is heeded.
Welcome to the big time, Bank-of-America arena. It's been a long time coming.
Game notes: Arizona is 15-0 this season when topping the 80-point plateau. With the win in Pullman, the Wildcats are 7-2 on the road, shooting 46-percent from the floor. Channing Frye's 26 points offset a night where the ‘Cats hit a season-low one three-pointer – and that one wasn't by a guy named Stoudamire … Noting the quick turnaround from a late Thursday night game to an early Saturday tip-off, Brandon Roy was held out of the second half against the Sun Devils as a precaution when his knee stiffened …
PROBABLE ARIZONA STARTERS POS No. Name HT CL PPG RPG ---------------------------------------------- F 21 Hassan Adams 6-4 JR 12.2 5.8 F 55 Ivan Radenovic 6-10 SO 8.6 5.9 C 45 Channing Frye 6-11 SR 15.3 7.6 G 15 Mustafa Shakur 6-3 SO 8.4 3.9 (4.5 APG) G 20 Salim Stoudamire 6-1 SR 18.2 2.3
Rick Samek can be reached at email@example.com