The first-place Wildcats enter 19-4 overall and 9-1 in Pac-12 play. The Huskies have been a surprise team this season, sitting at 16-6 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12, good for third in the conference. They beat ASU on Thursday night.
Saturday’s game will be the first time Arizona will face Washington this year, so we wanted to learned more about the Huskies, and thankfully our friends at UW Dawg Pound, the Washington SB Nation site, were able to provide us with some insight.
Here is our Q&A with their basketball editor, Max Vrooman, about UW, Saturday’s game, and Lorenzo Romar’s return to Seattle.
How did the UW fanbase react when Lorenzo Romar was hired by Arizona?
The reaction would’ve been much less favorable if he had immediately brought one or more UW recruits or transfers with him. Any negative reaction was strictly out of self-interest over concerns that Arizona will encroach upon Seattle more than they already had. I think fans would’ve felt better if he’d gone outside of the Pac-12 but don’t blame him for taking a job with an elite program.
What type of reception do you think he’ll get Saturday?
I’d be shocked if it’s anything but positive. Lorenzo Romar was beloved by the fans and was never anything but a model representative of the University. He cared for the players and he cared for the school. The only reason he lasted as long as he did is because of the deep sense of gratitude owed to him for building up the program. In the end, he wasn’t able to meet the expectations he set for himself but he left on generally good terms and a lot of people didn’t want him fired last spring.
What type of impression has Mike Hopkins made at UW so far?
It has taken fans a while to get used to a new coach for the first time in 15 years. The one thing evident from day one has been his burning passion and enthusiasm. He isn’t afraid to show his emotions and doesn’t hold back in a press conference. Ultimately, it’s about wins and losses and he’s done well in that regard. He (and probably UW’s marketing department) took out a full page ad in the Seattle Times thanking the fans after UW got a sellout for the first time in a few years last Sunday against Washington State.
What were expectations for UW this season, and have they exceeded them?
It’s tough for them to have been much lower. This was a nine-win team that lost the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and tore apart the No. 1 recruiting class. Pessimistic fans were hoping to match last year’s total of two conference wins. Optimists said they’d be thrilled with an NIT berth and happy to be close to .500 in conference. They’re way ahead of both of those views.
Do you think UW will make the NCAA Tournament?
After Thursday night’s win against ASU, I do. My math says I think the Huskies have a good shot if they can get to 22+ wins. That would require a 6-5 record including the Pac-12 tournament. They could do that by sweeping Oregon State, winning at Cal, home against Colorado, winning their first tourney game, and then only one of Oregon (home and away), Utah (home), and Stanford (away).
Road wins against USC and Kansas plus the home victory over Arizona State all look very good on the resume. That being said, this team has overperformed to this point so if they stumble a little down the stretch and just miss then it won’t be that big of a surprise.
Washington’s zone creates a lot of turnovers. How would you describe their defense?
They play the 2-3 zone that Hopkins ran under Boeheim at Syracuse. A lot of zones pack the paint and let opponents shoot open 3’s. Washington’s zone contests every 3-point shot which has paid off by letting teams shoot just 27 percent from deep in conference play.
They’ll let teams take free throw line jumpers all game and trust that a lot of players get freaked out being left wide open from there and miss more than they make. The best way to beat them is to penetrate and nail some mid-range jumpers until the center commits and then have good interior passing to find someone hiding on the baseline for a dunk.
What are UW’s strengths and weaknesses on offense?
This team doesn’t have a true point guard and so ball handling is often an issue. David Crisp is nominally the PG but it’s by necessity. They’re very hit and miss with their outside shooting. They’ve shot 25 percent or worse on 3-pointers four times, and 42 percent or better four times in the first eight conference games. If the Huskies are making shots then everything opens up, otherwise they’ll rely on working the ball inside to Noah Dickerson to get fouled or work the midrange with Jaylen Nowell.
Markelle Fultz is gone, so who are some players we should know about this year?
If Deandre Ayton had gone elsewhere, Jaylen Nowell would likely be the Freshman of the Year in the conference. The 4-star shooting guard was the only recruit to stick around after Coach Romar left. He leads the team in scoring and always has the ball in his hands at the end of the game. If it comes down to a last shot, Washington will spread everyone along the baseline and let him take his guy 1v1. The combination of his crossover and spectacular mid-range game make him near unguardable in those situations.
Junior Matisse Thybulle is one of the favorites for conference defensive player of the year and has been a monster at the top of the zone using his long arms to rank third in the country in steals per game.
What worries you most about playing Arizona?
Probably that Arizona has the three best players in the game if Rawle Alkins is 100 percent. The zone has been much more effective against teams that are perimeter focused and undersized on the inside. Arizona has the best big man duo in the conference and possibly the best big man in all of college basketball. That’s not good for the Huskies. The wild card is how will the Huskies perform playing against the man who recruited almost all of them to Seattle?
What is your score prediction for Saturday? Will UW pull off the upset?
A win over Arizona to move to 7-3 in conference would be the biggest highlight in the program since they started out the 2015 season 11-0. But as much as I would love to see it, Arizona is a bad matchup for this team.
I think Washington keeps it close but Arizona pulls away in the last five minutes.
UA- 72, UW-61.
Thanks to Max for answering our questions about UW and Saturday’s game! We answered questions for them as well, and that Q&A should be up on their site shortly.