In the past few years, Arizona and Washington have grown to be rivals on the hardwood. With stars such as Brandon Roy and Derrick Williams providing heroics in close games throughout the past decade, the games between the Huskies and the Wildcats have become a must-see event, as noted by the previous two matchups at McKale Center, both of which were whiteout games that came down to the wire.
This season, Washington limped into conference play, seemingly on its last leg. However, the Huskies have put together a nice run and are in the thick of things for the conference race. Before dropping a home game to Utah and falling on the road to Oregon, Washington was atop the conference in a tie with the Ducks for first place. Now, the game with Arizona will have even bigger implications when the race for the conference title enters the home stretch in early March.
Washington has been in this position before, floating in the top portion of the conference for the past few years. The success has come with the reign of Lorenzo Romar as Head Coach of the Huskies. He is in his eleventh year in Seattle and had accumulated a 219-113 record with Washington coming into this season. Romar has won the Pac-12 twice in the last four years and has made three trips to the Sweet Sixteen in his career with the Huskies.
One of the reasons that Washington has found success is the play of C.J. Wilcox. The junior guard is averaging nineteen points a game, leading the Huskies. He is shooting 43-percent from behind the three-point line and is Washington’s most effective shooter. In addition, Wilcox is doing everything he can on defense as well. He is second on the team in blocks with 24 and third on the team in steals with 14.
Joining Wilcox in the backcourt will be Abdul Gaddy and Scott Suggs. Gaddy, a one-time Arizona commit, is in his senior season with the Huskies and is Washington’s on court leader. While he is scoring 11.4 points per game, he is also leading the team with seventy assists on the year.
Suggs is a different story for the Huskies. He came into the season as one of Washington’s top scoring options. However, after missing three games this season with a concussion, his offense has struggled somewhat. Suggs is still scoring just over twelve points a night, but isn’t nearly as effective as he would like to be on the offensive end of the floor.
The final double-digit scorer for the Huskies is center Aziz N’Diaye. He is scoring nearly eleven points a night, but is also an effective rebounder and defender. N’Diaye is grabbing over nine rebounds per game and has had seven double-doubles with points and rebounds this year. The senior also leads his team in blocks with 25.
6-foot-7 Desmond Simmons should be the final member of the starting rotation on Thursday night. The sophomore hasn’t been very effective on the offensive end of the court, but plays good defense and uses his size to his advantage. Simmons grabs just fewer than eight rebounds a night and leads the team in steals with 21 on the season.
Washington has only gone seven deep for most of the season with Andrew Andrews and Shawn Kemp, Jr. coming off the bench. They have been the most consistent bench players to see the court.
Andrews, just a redshirt freshman, has found his way into the rotation with quality play. He has picked up his game in the past few weeks once Pac-12 play started. In the last game against Oregon, Andrews tallied a team-high fifteen points and four assists in 27 minutes of action. The guard has provided a scoring boost that the Huskies desperately needed heading into conference play.
The 6-foot-9 Kemp has been a consistent contributor for Washington. Backing up N’Diaye and Simmons isn’t an easy task, but Kemp has done an adequate job throughout the season. He has his ups and downs, as shown by the fact that in a loss at Oregon State, he scored just three points in seven minutes of action, but turned around and had twelve points in 21 minutes against Oregon.
Arizona matches up well with Washington, but the lack of depth for the Huskies may prove to be their biggest weakness. While Arizona continues to improve the younger players and become a better team, UW is tapping out all of its potential in order to keep up with the rest of the conference.
With Oregon remaining undefeated in conference play, a loss for either team is a huge blow to the conference title chances. Both teams will be pulling out all the stops in order to get a victory. If it plays out like the previous matchups, it will be a game that no one will want to miss.