WILDCATS

Arizona basketball: Never an easy time in Seattle

Cats remain winless at Washington during the Sean Miller era
2013-01-31T00:00:00Z 2013-03-27T16:57:31Z Arizona basketball: Never an easy time in SeattleBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

There's only one Pac-12 school left on Sean Miller's list, and the Arizona Wildcats coach is hoping to erase it tonight.

Washington is the lone original Pac-10 team that the UA has not beaten on the road under the fourth-year Arizona coach, after the Wildcats beat Oregon State for the first time under Miller earlier this month.

"Yep. That's right," Miller said. "It's very meaningful. No one knows that more than us. And hopefully we can change that."

Even though Washington has lost three straight games, history says the Huskies won't roll over. Washington has drawn rabid crowds for recent UA games and have won the past three by an average of 10.7 points.

"I'd love to get a win against Washington," senior forward Solomon Hill said. "But I can't look at it as, 'Let's just go up there and get a win against Washington' because it's not going to be that easy."

Here's why the UA could break through tonight … and why it might not:

Arizona is a good, experienced road team …

Even before Pac-12 play began, Arizona beat Texas Tech and Clemson on the road, then brought the Diamond Head Classic trophy home from Hawaii.

In conference play, UA is holding opponents to four fewer points on the road and, while its freshmen big men produce slightly less across the board away from McKale Center, the Wildcats are generally getting strong veteran play.

In particular, guard Mark Lyons is averaging 20.3 points and shooting 47.7 percent on the road while he averages 15.3 points and shoots 32.7 percent at home. Miller said Lyons' home/road splits will likely even out over time but acknowledged how critical veteran help is away from home.

"Older players are generally more comfortable on the road and again it goes back to that experience," Miller said. "This is Solomon's fourth time to Washington. He knows what to expect, from the travel, to the arena, to the style (of play). It helps them. They're more of the same whether they're at home or on the road."

… but Washington and its fans can be relentless at home.

Even Arizona's Elite Eight team in 2010-11 lost by 17 points at Washington, which plays in an old building that did not lose intimacy when it was renovated in 1999-2000.

Students stand behind both benches along the teams' sideline, though opponents receive a small buffer of seats behind their bench that they can fill with their own fans.

"They're right behind you, basically on your shoulder," Hill said of the UW students.

However, the Huskies have averaged only 7,779 fans this season and they've already lost four games at home, so 1,200 tickets were still available as of Wednesday afternoon. But the crowd is still expected to be the biggest of the season, and plenty vocal, if nothing else because of Washington's opponent.

"When we first got the job here, people would say, 'When do you play Arizona?'" Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "Now in our 11th year, and it's still 'When is the Arizona game?'"

The Huskies don't have a brash, intimidating showman anymore …

Husky stars such as Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson are long gone. Ever-grinning guard Isaiah Thomas left Washington a year early in 2011 while flashy freshmen Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross jumped straight into the NBA draft last season.

While guard C.J. Wilcox is taking a quarter of the Huskies' shots in conference games, he's not a brash presence, nor is point guard Abdul Gaddy.

"We don't really have that dominant personality, that one guy who's going to be the face of the team," Gaddy said before the season. "The team is the face of the team."

… But Wilcox and company can still burn you.

Wilcox is averaging 20 points a game in Pac-12 play, taking advantage of the shots left behind when Wroten and Ross took off last spring. Inside, the Huskies have the rugged Aziz N'Diaye and more overall depth.

In short, understated personality is not to be confused with a lack of firepower.

"They have experience at the five with Aziz and at the one with Gaddy, and they know how to win," Miller said. "They've been there before. I think they have one of the most dynamic players not only in our conference, but in the country, in Wilcox."

Three straight losses cost the Huskies their mojo …

After losing a home shocker to Utah, the Huskies were swept in Oregon last weekend to slip to 4-3 in conference play. They also have nonconference home losses to teams such as Albany and Nevada, four in all, making Romar concerned that the Huskies could lose their edge at home.

"The crowd has really gotten behind our team, but this year we haven't been as successful," Romar said. "We need to try to regain that home-court advantage because the support here is really good."

… but they could be on the cusp of getting it back.

Washington has not been blown out in any of its three straight losses and the Huskies lost by only five at Oregon in what could have been a signature win.

"They've been in every game," Miller said. "The difference between them being 4-3 and 6-1 is just a few plays. They have also played five of seven (Pac-12 games) on the road."

Now the Huskies are home again, and the Wildcats have their eyes wide open.

"They have a talented team and I know anytime you play at their home court you'll get a good team that's ready to go," Miller said.

On StarNet: Join your fellow fans in a live chat during the game tonight at live.azstarnet.com

Preview the games with our interactive Insider at azstarnet.com/multimedia

Winless in Seattle

Arizona's three previous games under Sean Miller against Washington in Seattle:

Washington 81, Arizona 75

• When: Feb. 4, 2010

• What happened: Derrick Williams fouled out quickly, while Nic Wise was 4 of 7 from the field with five turnovers. The Huskies' Quincy Pondexter, meanwhile, had 30 points and 12 rebounds.

• Miller said it: "Derrick has been fantastic and he only played eight minutes, so it's hard for us to win when that happens."

Washington 85, Arizona 68

• When: Jan. 20, 2011

• What happened: Isaiah Thomas, who would later hit a buzzer-beater to oust Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament final, had 22 points and 10 assists while also memorably racing into the stands to keep alive a deflected shot as Washington began to run away with the game in the second half.

• Miller said it: "Part of what you have to deal with when you play these guys is deal with that little monster (Thomas). And I mean that in the most positive way. He's so controlling on both ends that you are at his mercy."

Washington 79, Arizona 70

• When: Feb. 18, 2012

• What happened: Fab freshmen Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross combined for 47 points - Ross with 25 and Wroten with 22 - while Washington swiped 20 offensive rebounds to take 11 more shots than Arizona.

• Miller said it: "The combination of Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten is really a 1-2 punch that you have to be ready to deal with because they were terrific."

Today

• What: No. 8 Arizona at Washington

• When: 7 p.m.

• TV; radio: ESPN; 1290-AM; 107.5-FM

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