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What to watch for when Arizona hosts Washington State on Thursday night

arizona-wildcats-wsu-cougars-preview-pac12-mckale-bonton-elleby-2020-time-miller-college-basketball James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats (19-10, 9-7 Pac-12) are home for the final weekend of the regular season, starting with Thursday’s visit from the Washington State Cougars (15-14, 6-10) on Thursday night.

Arizona has dropped three in a row, most recently getting swept at the Los Angeles schools, while Wazzu won at rival Washington last Friday to snap a four-game skid.

Tip-off at McKale Center is set for 8:30 p.m. MT. Here are some things to keep an eye on during Arizona’s second-to-last home game.

Josh Green’s status

Among the many storylines last weekend was the absence of Green, arguably Arizona’s most athletic player, due to a sacroiliac joint sprain in his lower back. The freshman wing did not make the trip to Los Angeles, staying behind to rest and recover, and not having him was incredibly noticeable in losses at USC and UCLA.

Signs point to Green returning to action on Thursday, but it’s not a certainty. Arizona coach Sean Miller said Green practiced on Monday, but that workout didn’t include any contact, while Green was spotted leaving the athletes-only gym in McKale after having gone through some aquatherapy.

“Hopefully he’ll be with us, but we have to play the players that are healthy and the players that are able to play,” Miller said.

Ira Lee started in Green’s place the last two games but had only eight points, five rebounds and five turnovers in 37 total minutes of action. Meanwhile, Arizona’s bench scored just 26 points over the two contests.

Scouting the opponent

Washington State hasn’t been above .500 this late in a season since 2010-11 season, when the Cougars finished sixth in the Pac-10 and went on to reach the NIT semifinals. But they’ve only one twice since Arizona beat then 66-49 in Pullman on Feb. 1, both of those victories coming against rival Washington.

The Cougs were without junior guard Isaac Bonton because of a hip injury for a three-game stretch, all losses, and his lack of availability had a similar effect to that of Arizona missing Green. WSU was outscored by an average of 15.3 points by USC, Cal and Stanford, and when he returned against Washington he had 20 points.

“You can see the difference in their team when he’s been injured,” Miller said. “They played a couple games without him and they weren’t nearly as good.”

Bonton and sophomore guard CJ Elleby make up the bulk of Wazzu’s offense, averaging 33.7 points per game overall and 34.4 in Pac-12 play. The Cougars are scoring 66.6 points per game in the league.

“It starts with how we defend those two guys, they’re capable of having big nights,” Miller said.

The last matchup

Arizona’s 17-point win at Wazzu was one of its most complete performances of the season, particularly from a defensive standpoint. The Wildcats held their foe to 37 percent shooting and 0.75 points per possession, WSU’s second-lowest of the season.

WSU was 3 of 18 from 3-point range, with Bonton and Elleby going 2 for 9 from outside while also committing seven turnovers.

“They’re the head of the snake and we basically cut them off,” UA senior guard Dylan Smith said.

The Cougars play the second-fastest tempo in the Pac-12, averaging 69.3 possessions in league action, yet Arizona slowed them down and forced them into a half-court game they weren’t comfortable with. Sounds familiar, huh?

Playing for a bye

Officially, Arizona is in a tie for sixth place with Stanford heading into the final weekend. But a sweep of the Washington schools will put the Wildcats in great position to finish fourth, thus earning a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament.

The top four seeds don’t play until Thursday, while Nos. 5-12 are in action Wednesday.

Miller sees advantages both to getting a bye and playing that first day, though he said it depends on a team’s goals.

“Certainly I think there’s a big advantage of having a bye in terms of winning the tournament,” he said. “In terms of winning two games, playing on Wednesday I think is an advantage for the other team. Playing on Wednesday, in some ways, almost in every way in my opinion, helps you for Thursday’s game. It gives you a chance to come off of a win, get confidence, play in the arena under those circumstances. Quickly move to Day 2 where that other team, while they may be rested, on a one-day turnaround, I don’t think that’s a big advantage.

“Where you really feel the negative of playing on a Wednesday is if you’re trying to win the tournament. Winning four games in four days is a tall task.”

If Arizona wins both remaining games its seed will be determined by who it ends up tied with in the standings among Colorado, Stanford and USC, the most likely teams to also finish with seven losses. The Wildcats would win out in a four-team tie and a three-teamer with Colorado and USC, while a three-teamer with Stanford and USC would drop them to fifth. Arizona wins head-to-head tiebreakers with Colorado and Stanford but a two-way tie with USC would go to the Trojans based on them winning vs. UCLA on Saturday.

Thursday’s Pac-12 games are unlikely to impact the seeding unless an upset happens, such as Washington winning at ASU or Stanford falling at Oregon State.