12 p.m. MST
Just as it seemed the Washington Huskies' days of pestering the Arizona Wildcats seemed numbered, they did something to announce Lorenzo Romar isn't losing his touch. UW entered Pac-12 play with an 8-5 record including harmful losses to UC-Irvine and Boston College, though Romar's squad did earn some early-season battlescars with losses to Indiana, San Diego State and the UConn Huskies.
Then Thursday came about.
Washington waltzed into Wells Fargo Arena and built a 24-point lead against an Arizona State team expected to be in the second tier of the conference. The Huskies didn't win 76-65 the way you'd guess.
They played small and with a slashing style, but it was the defense holding ASU to 38.6 percent shooting and 2-for-14 from three-point range that stood out. Romar's squad only shot 13 threes, was careful with the ball and outrebounded ASU.
It was a winning formula for a team that in terms of roster makeup looks like the offensive juggernaut they are -- UW scores 80.3 points per game and mostly because it plays fast.
It'll be a completely different feel for Arizona, which is coming off a grinding 60-25 victory against Washington State. So will the Wildcats get caught up in Washington's game? If so, will they feel comfortable with it?
The Huskies might be willing to forgo a four-guard lineup against Arizona, just as they did against Indiana. Shawn Kemp Jr. might see more opportunities against the Wildcats, and could potentially join bruiser Perris Blackwell, point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, and Andrew Andrews in the starting lineup. Washington will be led by steady guard C.J. Wilcox who averages, 20.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 41 percent three-point shooting.
The key for Arizona will be its big men staying out of foul trouble. While UW is a capable three-point shooting team, its bread and butter is attacking the paint. Washington is 29th in fouls drawn this season and hits a seventh-best 76.9 percent from the foul stripe.
Two issues there: Firstly, the Wildcats have toed the line of bad free throw shooting making a difference, but they're yet to pay the price for it. Secondly, foul trouble to either Brandon Ashley or Kaleb Tarczewski dramatically changes the backline defensive issues if UW ballhandlers break down Arizona's perimeter defense. Considering Tarczewski is still recovering from an ankle sprain, he's even more susceptible to reaching and picking up bad fouls.
If that happens, then it'll come down to the Wildcats playing with a high-octane Huskies. At that point, T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson will be relied upon to score and create themselves, something they haven't needed to do for more than a few important stretches in a few key games.
The Huskies have a reason to play loose. Arizona is the frontrunner with Oregon, Colorado, UCLA chasing them. ASU and Utah could arguably be considered the other two contenders.
As Romar's team showed against the Sun Devils, this is about battling perception. The Huskies are battling for a new one. Arizona is simply trying to continue what it's already built behind a defense-first identity.