Beach's Breakdown - Arizona

At 12-4 in league play, the Washington Huskies took a giant step toward winning the Pac-10 Thursday night in their 73-70 overtime win hosting Arizona State. The Arizona Wildcats are heading in the opposite direction, finally running out of gas after a torrid seven-game win streak. Their chances for a Pac-10 title are looking more like a mirage than the real thing.

The Huskies can clinch at least a share of the conference title with a win over Arizona Saturday, but it's not going to be easy. The Wildcats are fighting for one of the most cherished streaks in all of modern college sports – their 25th-straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. Consecutive losses to Arizona State and Washington State have significantly dimmed their tournament hopes, and an RPI hovering in the low 50's means the 'Cats may have to win out to get to the Big Dance.

Arizona, as has been the case all season, is buoyed by the sensational play of the most dangerous trio of players in the Pac-10 – Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and Nic Wise. Collectively, the talented threesome are averaging 51 points a game and are nearly impossible to stop as a unit.

"When you look at Arizona, they've got a great low post presence in Hill who can get 30, you've got a point guard in Wise who can get 30, and then you've got a wing player in Budinger who can get 30," explained Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar Friday. "You've got Nic Wise, who can break down your defense and find Zane Johnson and Kyle Fogg.

"With Arizona, you can't just concentrate on one guy"

UW captain Jon Brockman agreed. "You could say Arizona's a tough match up for anyone because of their unbelievable athleticism and ability to put points on the board which is what makes them so dangerous," he said.

Hill, in particular, has really seen his productivity skyrocket this season, averaging nearly 18 points and 11 rebounds a game. A freakishly athletic 6-foot-10 forward, Hill is one of the most difficult match-ups in the Pac-10 for the Huskies since their counter, Jon Brockman, lacks the height or quickness to stop Hill on the blocks.

"Hill's tough," shared Brockman with a candid comment. "He's so long and so athletic and he's gotten a lot stronger. He one of the toughest to play against in this league if not the toughest, but he's also fun to play against and I'm really looking forward to playing against him."

Hill does have his struggles with foul trouble. Being the only legitimate post defender means he constantly draws tough defensive responsibilities. In the case of Washington, that means Brockman, who dropped 27 points and 16 rebounds during the team's first meeting of the season, and despite winning the game, Hill still fouled out.

Big things have always been expected of junior Chase Budinger, and to Arizona fans he's finally living up to his billing. Budinger has surged during Pac-10 play, nestled among the league leaders in scoring, rebounding and assists. He is also one of the top 3-point marksmen in the conference, shooting 41.5 percent from beyond the arc. He will test Quincy Pondexter, Darnell Gant and Justin Holiday every chance he gets.

Nic Wise has quietly become one of the top point guards in the Pac-10. Overshadowed at times by his NBA-bound teammates, Wise remains the key to Arizona's attack. The 5-foot-10 junior is at his best drawing defenders into collapsing on him when he attacks the rim, rewarding his teammates with easy looks around the basket.

Where the Wildcats run into trouble is their lack of depth, and weary legs may be partially to blame for their recent losses. The big three are seeing nearly 40 minutes a game each during the waning weeks of Pac-10 play. Before the Arizona State game, Budinger had played five consecutive games without a minute on the bench. While that says volumes about his physical conditioning, it ultimately could become a factor at the end of games, and similar tales could be told of Wise and Hill.

Coach Romar didn't nessasarily agree, though.

"To be able to play the kind of minutes they do this long is a credit to the conditioning of those guys and their mental toughness," he said. "Hopefully our depth can help, but when you log a lot of minutes, it's the best way to get into game condition. You get in game shape by playing in games. When guys play that many minutes, you learn how to pace yourself without taking plays off."

Arizona is a tough match up for Washington, as they are for every team in the conference, because of their big three. When NBA talents like Budinger or Hill get hot, there's little opponents can do but put their hands together and pray for a miss. Wise adds a devastating third option to their already scary attack.

Slowing Wise down will be a big part of Washington's gameplan. "When he has the ball we have to contain him as much as possible," shared Brockman. "He's really the key factor in their offense. We have to do a good job of all five guys guarding him."

Arizona is seeing significant improvement from unheralded freshman Kyle Fogg, who is thriving due to the attention paid to stopping Budinger, Hill and Wise. During the second half of Pac-10 play, Fogg has seen his minutes climb to over 25 a game, and he is averaging a respectable 6.4 points a game while shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point territory.

The Wildcats also use sophomore wing Jamelle Horne, though his contributions have become maddeningly inconsistent after a promising stretch of games around mid-season.

For Washington, the path is pretty clear: Play defense. The Huskies gave up 106 points in their first meeting against Arizona, and it was hard to figure out where they went wrong.

"They are a difficult, difficult team to defend. Obviously we have to do a better job of defending them," Romar said of the Wildcats. The last time these 'Cats and Dawgs tangled, Arizona racked up 69 second-half points to win going away.

"You can look at every single area of the last Arizona game, and they spanked us," added Brockman. "They killed us on the offensive boards and got numerous second shots, they shot well, penetrated, attacked the glass, went to the free throw line. All around they just played a much better, much smarter game than we did. They were playing with their backs against the wall last game, and they're doing the same thing now."

It would seem that overlooking this game is probably not a big concern for the Huskies. That said, this is undoubtedly a red-letter game for Washington.

"I look forward to it," said Brockman, matter of factly. "It's always fun running and getting up and down the court. You always know there's going to be a lot of points when you play Arizona, which puts even more responsibility on our transition defense and getting stops."

Look for a barnburner and a close Washington victory in one of the most exciting games of the season. Top Stories