Coming off two impressive road wins over USC and UCLA, the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats return home this week, welcoming the Washington schools to McKale Center, starting with a Thursday night matchup against Washington State Cougars.
Arizona’s strong performance last week in L.A. allowed it to jump to No. 7 in the AP Poll, and UA head coach Sean Miller says his team should have plenty of confidence carrying over to Thursday’s game.
“I would expect our team to have great confidence,” he said Monday at his weekly press conference. “We should. That’s something you get from performing, playing well on the road. ...Going to L.A., we talked a lot about earning respect within our own conference, earning respect from people. You don’t do it through talking or complaining, you do it through performance, you do it through winning big games, or winning big games on the road, or playing well.
“So confidence I would hope would be the carryover, but that game (against UCLA) is over. It’s so much about getting back to our process, practicing hard, making sure we’re locked in, and being ready for our next game. You only have 18 of these conference games...and very, very quickly you take these Washington schools off of our schedule, we have four home games left. It’s amazing. So it’s not as if we have a long, long season ahead of us, so we have to embrace everyday, especially now that we’re at full strength. I’ll knock on wood. I just hope that we can have a good stretch of health and have this group here for a good stretch.”
The Wildcats (18-2, 7-0 Pac-12) welcomed back Allonzo Trier against UCLA on Saturday. The sophomore, who is the team’s leading returning scorer from a season ago, missed Arizona’s first 19 games due to a suspension related to performance-enhancing drugs.
Trier posted 12 points, seven rebounds, and four assists in the Wildcats’ win over the Bruins, and Miller called Trier’s performance “striking” given that it was his first game of the season.
As a whole, Miller said Trier’s return is a “shot of energy” for the Wildcats, who now have nine scholarship players in their rotation, putting them as close to full strength as they will be this season.
“Allonzo brings a double-figure scorer to the table,” Miller said. “He brings an excellent 3-point shooter to the table. At the end of games, he’s a deadly free throw shooter. He draws fouls instinctively…that leads to being in the bonus earlier. He gives us more firepower on offense, now it’s up to us to be even more efficient and kind of organize that.
“Defensively, it gives us more depth. We play through foul trouble a little bit better and I think we can hold our team to the highest level of effort. And I don’t mean ‘hey, if you don’t play hard I’m gonna take you out.’ We have great intent, but you can’t help but wear down a little bit when you’re playing in these types of games. We can guard against that that much better so I think our whole entire game can continue to develop.”
Trier, who came off the bench against the Bruins, started in 21 games last season, and could return to Arizona’s starting lineup “very, very shortly.”
“I think what we owe Allonzo is that if he’s clearly one of our five best players, then he deserves to start,” Miller said Monday.
Arizona has won 12 games in a row, and our staff discussed Tuesday whether or not the Wildcats should change their starting lineup.
UA forward Lauri Markkanen will look to continue his recent hot streak Thursday.
The Finn averaged 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 64 percent from the field and 8-of-10 from 3 in the wins against USC and UCLA. He was the first Wildcat to win either award this season.
KenPom.com currently lists Markkanen as its Player of the Year in the Pac-12.
The forward is averaging team-highs in both scoring (17.1) and rebounding (7.4), and is hitting 50 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Washington State (10-9, 3-4 Pac-12) enters Thursday’s contest losing four of its last five games, though it did beat the Colorado Buffaloes in Pullman in overtime in its last game.
The Cougars are led by senior forward Josh Hawkinson, who averages 15.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. The big man has posted 10 double-doubles this season.
Hawkinson also shoots 51 percent from the field and is capable of stretching the floor, as he is connecting on 32 percent of his 3-point attempts this season.
“Josh Hawkinson has always been one of my favorite players in our conference,” Miller said. “He’s done it year in, year out. I feel like he’s been there for about six years at this point.”
WSU has two other double-figure scorers in senior guard Ike Iroegbu, and freshman Malachi Flynn.
Iroegbu averages 11 points per game, while Flynn is averaging 11.3 points per game while shooting 44 percent from 3 and dishing out a team-high 2.9 assists per contest.
“Malachi Flynn, who I’m just watching now, has been one of the best freshmen in our conference,” Miller said. “(WSU coach) Ernie Kent does an incredible job of coaching offense, putting his players in a great position. They have a style on offense and defense that’s unique. I’m glad we have three days to prepare for them and it’s the next game for us. It’s not about what we did, it’s about being as ready as we can possibly be on Thursday.”
Despite their 3-4 conference record, KenPom ranks the Cougars as the 216th team in the country, which is only ahead of Oregon State in the Pac-12..
WSU’s three Pac-12 wins were against Washington, Oregon State, and Colorado, while it lost against Stanford, Cal, Utah, and Oregon.
The Cougars rank as the 196th offensive team and 227th defensive team in the country, per KenPom’s efficiency ratings.
Washington State is one of the worst teams in college basketball at forcing turnovers as its defensive turnover percentage ranks 340th (out of 351) in the nation. The Cougars rank similarly in offensive rebounding percentage (348th out of 351).
Arizona has won 10 games in a row against WSU, with the Cougars last win coming in the 2009-10 season.
The Wildcats are 61-16 all-time against the Cougars.
How to watch Thursday’s game
Time: 7:30 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Announcers: Roxy Bernstein & Matt Muehlebach
How they matchup
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