clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

3 keys to an Arizona win at Washington

It’s a good old-fashioned cat and dog fight in Seattle

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Washington Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats (19-4, 9-1) are on the verge of clinching their eighth straight 20-win season and they’ll get their first crack at it in Seattle on Saturday night against the Washington Huskies (16-6, 6-3).

Arizona is coming off their most impressive performance in Pac-12 play thus far. The Wildcats scorched the Washington State Cougars on Wednesday night for their first 100-point effort since starting the season 2-0 with consecutive triple-digit games.

That said, there’s a sizable gap between this year’s Washington schools. The Cougars now sit at 1-8 in the conference after there 100-72 loss to the Wildcats, good for second to last in the Pac-12. Arizona’s next opponent, however, is trouncing preseason expectations, sitting at 6-3 in the Pac-12 and holds marquee victories over Kansas, USC and most recently Arizona State. The Huskies handed the Sun Devils an L on Thursday night.

A top-shelf Arizona team traveling to Seattle to take on an up-and-coming Washington team, we’ve certainly seen that before. This time, Lorenzo Romar is oddly on the Wildcats’ sideline but that’s about all that’s changed.

Does Arizona have another perfect offensive performance in them? Or could Washington pull off their first win over the Wildcats since 2012? Let’s take a look at three keys to the Wildcats avoiding an upset in Seattle:

Be careful with the ball

Oh no, it’s another zone defense.

Arizona’s kryptonite all season long has been zone defenses and this time, they’re up against the fiercest one yet. Washington is led by head coach Mike Hopkins who learned the zone under Zone-Master, Jim Boeheim at Syracuse.

While Arizona has fallen victim to the zone time and time again, it’s mostly affected them in ways like stalling the offense or forcing bad shots. Washington’s zone is designed to create chaos and cause turnovers. And to this point, it’s gotten the job done.

The Huskies force nearly 16 turnovers per game and rank in the top 30 in the nation in that category. It’s not Washington waiting for their opponent to get sloppy either, they’re forcing these turnovers. The Huskies snag 8.7 steals per game which ranks in the top 10 in the country. Arizona especially needs to know where Huskies guard Matisse Thybulle is at all times. He leads the way for their defense with 3.1 steals and 1.5 blocks per game.

The Huskies are looking to take 3-point shots away or at least heavily contest them. They typically leave the free throw line open for guys to catch passes. Throughout the season, that’s been the spot for Deandre Ayton to catch passes and go to work.

A common issue with Ayton though has been his propensity to catch that pass and wait, often times choosing to stay there and shoot a jumper instead of immediately putting the ball on the floor and attacking. If he waits in the triple threat position too long on Saturday night, you can bet that some Husky hands will be swiping at the ball. That’s something he and the rest of the Wildcats need to be careful with.

If the main focus of Washington’s zone is to cause turnovers, Arizona has got to be mindful of passing lanes and active hands. The Wildcats have been able to stay under 10 turnovers in two of their last three games. If they can do it again versus Washington, it’ll go a long ways toward a win.

Get out in transition

We all know what’s going to happen if the Wildcats settle into their half-court offense throughout the game. It’s something people have seen all season long. Against a zone, the offense halts to a stop, guys stand around and an ill-advised 3-pointer goes up.

The 3-ball has been falling for Arizona the last couple of games. They’ve hit 20-of-33 from long range in the last two contests. If they can hit that 60 percent mark again on Saturday night, it shouldn’t matter if the offense is stalled.

But the odds of that happening are slim against a Washington defense that’s allowing only 27 percent on shots from beyond the arc in Pac-12 play. In fact, in their nine Pac-12 games, the Huskies are only allowing teams to shoot 42 percent from the floor as a whole. The Wildcats have shot better than that in all but two conference games so far.

Arizona’s best chance at creating points is what it’s always been against zone defenses — get out and run. When a defensive rebound is grabbed, the Wildcats need to immediately streak down the floor for an attempt at quick, easy buckets. If Ayton or Dusan Ristic sees an opportunity for an outlet pass, this is the game to take that shot down the floor. The second the game gets slowed down, the advantage goes to the Huskies. Parker Jackson-Cartwright must push the issue in Washington and lead the break, finding Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Dylan Smith or Brandon Randolph along the way.

The Wildcats will need to create turnovers, something they haven’t been great at doing in the last two weeks. Washington isn’t an organized offensive team as they turn it over nearly 14 times a game. But Arizona has failed to create more than 10 turnovers against each of their last four opponents. If the Wildcats want to come anywhere close to the 100 they dropped on Wednesday, they need to force plenty of mistakes from the Huskies and take advantage quickly at the other end.

Lock down Jaylen Nowell

The Wildcats will likely have the three best players on the floor in Ayton, Trier and Alkins who looked perfectly healthy in the win over Washington State.

But Arizona’s defense needs to be aware of Washington’s hometown boy, freshman guard Jaylen Nowell.

Nowell leads the Huskies in scoring and, despite his 6-foot-4 frame, has been a force on the boards in last few games.

Nowell will look to slice through the Arizona defense, something that many have done this season, and look to drive to the basket or pull-up for jumpers. Perhaps most dangerous though has been his ability to follow his own shot over the last few weeks. Nowell has grabbed 33 rebounds in the Huskies’ last four games and 10 of those were on the offensive glass.

Arizona’s talent advantage over opponents in the Pac-12 is steep and the main reason the Wildcats sit at 9-1 in conference play. But if Nowell can work his way into being one of the three best players on the floor on Saturday night, it could be a long ride home for the red and blue.