Arizona (16-8, 10-8 Pac-12) has won two in a row, most recently a defense-led 69-53 victory over Washington State late Thursday. Washington (5-19, 4-15) comes to McKale having lost twice at ASU in a 3-day span. The Wildcats crushed the Huskies 80-53 on New Year’s Eve in Seattle, a game that saw seven UA players score at least eight points.
Tip is set for just after 12 p.m. MST, with CBS broadcasting the game. Here’s what to keep an eye out for:
Can Kerr play?
While Arizona has somehow managed to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak, the injury bug is one it hasn’t been able to shake. The latest on the mend is freshman point guard Kerr Kriisa, who suffered a groin injury in practice during the week and missed Thursday’s game against WSU.
Sean Miller said he is “optimistic and hopeful that he’ll rejoin us on Saturday,” and that he could have played Thursday but that would have only aggravated the injury. “He’s been able to take a couple days off.”
Miller said Arizona desperately needs Kriisa, who was averaging 21.5 points minutes in six games since becoming eligible, including four consecutive starts. In his absence, Terrell Brown Jr. returned to the starting lineup and had a stat-stuffing seven points, five rebounds, eight assists, four blocks and a steal in 35 minutes, while James Akinjo played 36 minutes and Benn Mathurin logged 37.
“It’s too much to ask to only play three guards or four guards,” Miller said. “You need Kerr available. And as you guys know, Kerr has become a really big part of what we’re doing. So we got to get him back in there.”
Breaking out the brooms
Thursday’s win over WSU sets Arizona up for a chance to end the home slate on a high note and pull off a weekend sweep. In past years those were a regularity, but this season it hasn’t happened as the Wildcats are only 5-4 in Pac-12 games at McKale Center.
“It’s been some time since we had a home sweep,” Miller said. “I can’t believe I just said that, but that’s something we have to repair. And that’s why Saturday’s game is so big, it gives us that chance to do it.”
Arizona’s last home sweep came against Utah and Colorado in January 2020. Since then it has either split or been swept in six consecutive weekend series, though it did win single home conference games against Colorado and ASU this season.
Swan song for the seniors
Ira Lee will get his first start of 2020-21, and eighth of his career, against Washington, giving the senior a proper sendoff. Expect Terrell Brown to be in there as well, even if Kriisa is available to play.
Miller has done his best to start seniors in their final home game, previously giving Matt Korcheck his one and only start on that occasion in 2015—the Sabino High School grad had two points, two rebounds, an assist and a block in five minutes—as well as starting Jordin Mayes in the last home game in 2014.
That part of Senior Day will be normal, but the rest will be very COVID-impacted.
Miller said the ceremony for those seniors, as well as walk-on Matt Weyand and some student managers, will happen before the game as it did a year ago. And while the seniors will have family members in attendance, they cannot be down on the court.
“We’re gonna kind of send those guys off I hope with a good performance,” Miller said. “Ironically, Washington was our last game a year ago. And we have to do a better job this year than we did a year ago.”
Brown, who came to the UA last spring as a graduate transfer, said he’s still uncertain of whether he’ll take advantage of the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility and return for 2021-22. He said in the locker room after Thursday’s game he took a moment to reflect on how his college career may almost be over.
“It was fun, to be honest,” Brown said of his time at Arizona. “It was a fun journey. I kind of don’t want it to end. I think we’re a really tight, close family. I don’t know what next year holds.”
Pressed more on the subject, Brown switched back to his game face and said “we play Washington at noon, then we play Oregon on Monday. That’s all I’m focused on.”
Ring of Honor inductions
Arizona’s Ring of Honor will grow by two during halftime of Saturday’s game, as Al Fleming and Ernie McCray are getting inducted for their great accomplishments long ago.
Fleming, who passed away in 2003, is Arizona’s career leader in double-doubles (53) and rebounds (1,190). He played for the Wildcats from 1972-76, averaging 15.5 points and 10.4 rebounds on 58.3 percent shooting, and as a senior set the since-broken NCAA single-season shooting record at 66.7 percent.
An all-WAC selection his final two seasons, Fleming’s 41 points on Jan. 10, 1976 are the most by a UA player in McKale Center history.
That’s five fewer than the school single-game record of 46, set by McCray on Feb. 6, 1960. That’s one of 12 school records he set between 1957-60, becoming the first African-American men’s basketball player to graduate from the UA.
McCray, who averaged 17.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, was the first Wildcat to reach 1,250 points and 800 rebounds for his career.
Fleming and McCray will make 27 former UA men’s basketball players in the Ring of Honor, which is for players who meet certain criteria including being a first-team All-American, conference player of the year, an Olympic medalist or 10-plus years in one of the major US pro leagues. A 28th, Zeke Nnaji, will be inducted at a future date by virtue of him winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2020.
The Huskies are bad. There’s not really any other way to describe them.
Pac-12 champions just two seasons ago, Washington is 9-28 in league play since then. Arizona’s 27-point beatdown in Seattle on New Year’s Eve six games it has lost by at least 20 this season, most recently a 97-64 whooping at ASU on Tuesday (which was followed up by an eight-point loss to the Sun Devils on Thursday).
Washington plays the second-fastest pace of any Pac-12 team but is dead last in offensive efficiency. It has the worst defensive efficiency as well, ranking 180th nationally—Arizona sitting at 77th doesn’t sound so bad now, huh?—and can’t rebound, force turnovers or prevent easy baskets.
Amazingly, the Huskies aren’t in last place in the league, since Cal is 3-16.
They’re the perfect opponent to finish out at home against, at least in theory. Last year’s UW team finished in last place but won at McKale on Senior Night, only to have Arizona avenge that defeat five days later in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.