No. 5 Arizona, which survived a road scare in its most recent game, returns to the safety of home Thursday night against Washington in Tucson, Ariz.
The Wildcats (13-1, 2-1 Pac-12) have won 27 consecutive home games, the third-longest winning streak of its kind in the nation. If Arizona beats the slumping Huskies (9-6, 1-3) and then Washington State on Saturday, it will have the best home streak in the conference since Oregon won 46 in a row from 2015-17.
Arizona squandered almost all of a 17-point halftime lead at Arizona State on Saturday before posting a 69-60 victory, but one of the takeaways for Wildcats coach Tommy Lloyd was his team’s defense down the stretch.
After the Sun Devils’ torrid start to the second half — they pulled within two points with about 13 minutes to go — the Wildcats allowed Arizona State to make just 4 of 18 shots from the field.
“We kind of got our wits about us, made a few baskets, and then I thought we played great defense down the stretch,” Lloyd said. “We’re going to be a great defensive team. We’re going to be a great defensive and rebounding team. … I don’t care what our offense is ranked; I just care about getting the result.”
Most of the talk about Arizona this season has been about its fast-paced offense, led by Azuolas Tubelis (20.1 points, 8.7 rebounds per game). He is shooting 60.5 percent from the field.
“Tubelis is not just playing at Pac-12 player-of-the-year caliber, but at a national player-of-the-year caliber,” said Washington coach Mike Hopkins.
The Wildcats are scoring 88.7 points per game and rank second in the nation in shooting percentage (52.2).
Washington isn’t nearly as potent on offense and has lost three consecutive games (Auburn, Southern California, UCLA). The Huskies scored only 49 in a 25-point loss to the Bruins on New Year’s Day, when they hit just 2 of 25 attempts (8.0 percent) from 3-point range.
The road trip to the Arizona schools continues a difficult stretch for Washington.
“I have a great staff and we have great kids,” Hopkins said. “We have been resilient this year. We use each of these opportunities to get better. Yeah, we’ve had a tough stretch, but that’s part of it. That’s our DMGB: Doesn’t matter, get better.”
Washington’s Keion Brooks Jr., a Kentucky transfer, is averaging 16.2 points, and big man Braxton Meah is posting 9.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He poured in 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting against UCLA, but the Huskies have missed complementary post player Franck Kepnang, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Arizona has a two-headed monster on the inside, with Oumar Ballo connecting on 71.9 percent of his shots en route to 17.4 points per game. He pulls down 9.3 rebounds per game. Three starters on the perimeter average double figures for the Wildcats, who have won five straight against Washington.
–Field Level Media