The Wildcats pulled away in the second half against the Washington State Cougars on Thursday night, pushing Arizona’s record to 19-2 overall and 8-0 in Pac-12, tied with the Oregon Ducks atop the conference.
Washington enters Sunday’s game as losers of four of its last five games, and is on the heels of a 86-75 loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils.
The Huskies have had a rough season, as they currently sit with a 9-11 record (2-6 in the Pac-12), but they do have one of the top talents in college basketball in Markelle Fultz.
The 6-foot-4 freshman, projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, is averaging 23.7 points, 6.2 assists, and 6.0 rebounds per game with the Huskies. He is a dominant scorer, with the ability to put the ball in the basket at all three levels of the floor. Fultz is shooting 49 percent this season, including 43 percent from the 3-point line.
In Fultz’s last four games, he has scored 34, 37, 30, and 28 points. Yet, as it’s been the story of UW’s season, the Huskies are only 1-3 in those four games.
“Markelle Fultz is obviously a terrific player. I’m looking at how many points he’s scoring and the way people talk about him. I’ve just watched them in bits and pieces but we know he’s a great player,” UA head coach Sean Miller said. “We know they’re an offensive rebounding team and they have a talented group. ... We have to be ready to go.
“The thing about the conference season, you have to be ready each and every night. It’s not the name of the other team, it’s the name of our team. We have to hold ourselves to the standards that we’re trying to live up to.”
With Fultz leading the charge, Washington is a respectable offensive team, ranking 61st in the country in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, but the Huskies’ defense is another story.
Washington is second to last in defensive efficiency in the Pac-12, only ahead of ASU. The Huskies are allowing 107.8 points per 100 possessions, per sports-reference.com. For reference, Arizona, a top-20 defensive team, is allowing only 93 points per 100 possessions.
“I haven’t watched Washington a ton so any comment I give on Washington is just more of an opinion than anything,” Miller said before giving his thoughts on the Huskies. “I’ve clearly recognized Markelle Fultz, who’s a great, great talented. He’s having a tremendous freshman year and we recruited him so we know a little bit more about him, but them as a team, every team hits their stride at different parts of the year. I’m sure they’re trying to put it together and hit their stride, so we have to be ready. It’s an afternoon game, we have a quick turnaround, and we have to be ready to go.”
As Miller mentioned earlier, Washington is a solid offensive rebounding team. The Huskies have an offensive rebounding percentage of 35.4, which ranks 31st in college basketball. 3-point shooting is another one of UW’s strengths as it shoots 39 percent from 3-point land.
Aside from Fultz who has scored in double figures in all but one game this season, the Huskies have two other double-figure scorers in sophomore guard David Crisp and sophomore forward Noah Dickerson.
Crisp — a 6-foot guard — is averaging 13.8 points per game while shooting 41 percent from 3 on a high volume of attempts (6.5 per game). Dickerson, meanwhile, does most of his damage in the paint, plus he leads the Huskies in rebounding (8.2 RPG).
UW is a small team, as only one of its rotation players is taller than 6-foot-9 (Sam Timmins, but he only plays 12.3 minutes per game).
For that reason, the Huskies push the pace, and could find some success in transition against the Wildcats, who struggled to defend Washington State in transition Thursday.
“We’re a work in progress in a lot of ways ... and Washington is another opportunity to grow and improve,” Miller said. “We’re trying to work through some things here that I hope if you watch us a week from now will be that much further along.”
Of course, the Wildcats are still working to incorporate Allonzo Trier into their rotation. The sophomore has played in two games so far, and while he’s averaging 14.5 points and 5.5 assists, he has admitted that he is out of sync.
“I’m still really far behind,” Trier said after posting 17 points and a career-high seven assists against WSU. “This is my second game in about 10 months, so everybody is a lot farther ahead of me. I’m still not in a lot of rhythm, but as I continue to play more, I’ll find my way and I’ll get back to myself.”
Miller said Trier and the Wildcats will get more and more comfortable as the games go on, but for now, Arizona is a “work in progress.”
“It’s not a negative, it’s a positive,” Miller said. “But I don’t think anybody in here would expect us to be a finely-tuned machine across the board, it’s going to take a few more games, it’s going to take a few more practices and more of us as a staff watching film.”
Arizona has beaten Washington six straight times, and lead the all-time series 50-28.
The Wildcats have also won 17 home games in a row, and 66 of their last 67 games in Tucson.
How to watch Sunday’s game
Time: 1:30 p.m. MST
Live stream: FOX Sports Go
Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, Casey Jacobsen, and Kristina Pink
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire