By Christian Caple The News Tribune
TUCSON, Ariz. — With so many banners hanging from the ceiling of the McKale Center, it can be easy for visitors to Arizona’s home court to spend a few minutes in awe of the Wildcats’ history.
The current roster isn’t bad, either. And so the unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Wildcats (14-0, 1-0 in Pac-12) have the full attention of the visiting Washington Huskies and coach Lorenzo Romar, who today will take their turn at trying to knock off the Pac-12’s premier team.
All others have failed. Most recently, Washington State, which scored all of 25 points in a humbling loss at McKale on Thursday.
Arizona’s defensive performance in that game, Romar said, was “confirmation. They’re awfully good.”
It was also confirmation that if the Huskies (9-5, 1-0) are to have a chance, their transition game — and, therefore, their own defense — must be as on-point as it was during Thursday’s impressive 76-65 victory at Arizona State.
They must rebound, too: Arizona ranks third nationally in rebounding margin, and snags 41.5 percent of all offensive rebounds available.
“They miss a shot, it’s almost like part of their offense,” Romar said.
A halfcourt-style game is not likely to favor the Huskies. Arizona has earned its top national ranking by playing defense better than most teams in the country, limiting opponents to 54.4 points per game (third-best nationally) and holding them to 36.2 percent shooting from the field (fifth-best).
“Once they get back and they’re set, you have all these panthers back there ready to pounce — these Dobermans, man,” Romar said. “It makes it a little more difficult to score. If we can get out and get some easy baskets, that would definitely help our cause.”
The teams are different in both style and composition. Arizona starts three players — freshman Aaron Gordon, sophomore Brandon Ashley and 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski — who are listed as 6-8 or taller. Washington starts four guards — none taller than 6-5 — and one forward.
As such, the Huskies want to run, and attempt to force mismatches in transition.
Asked how he thinks UW’s smaller lineup matches up with the lengthy Wildcats, Romar said: “We’ll find out. We’re going to have to be scrappy. We can’t sit back and let them go at us. We have to be aggressive because we’re going to have a size disadvantage obviously.”
UW forward Perris Blackwell, who at 6-foot-9 is the tallest player in the UW starting lineup, said he hopes the Huskies can use the Wildcats’ size against them.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said, “but they have to guard us on the opposite end.”
This will be Washington’s third game against a No. 1-ranked team in Romar’s 12-year career. The Huskies defeated No. 1 Stanford on the final day of the regular season in 2004, and lost to No. 1 UCLA to begin conference play in 2006-07.
“That’s why you play Division 1 basketball,” junior forward Desmond Simmons said. “That’s why you come to the Pac-12, to play in games like this.”
One who got away
Gordon, the five-star recruit from San Jose, Calif., is Arizona’s leading rebounder as a freshman. At one point, it was thought he was headed to Washington. Romar has been friends with Gordon’s father for years.
“For a long time, (Aaron) was coming to Washington,” Romar said. “But he came to Arizona and he was very impressed with what was going on. He felt here, he could have a chance to win a national championship.”