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What to watch for when Arizona men’s basketball visits Washington

arizona-wildcats-washington-huskies-mens-basketball-preview-turnovers-steals-rebounding-pac12-2022 Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats can move another step closer to their first Pac-12 regular-season title since 2018 when they visit the Washington Huskies on Saturday afternoon.

Fourth-ranked Arizona (21-2, 11-1) is coming off a 72-60 win Thursday at Washington State, its fifth in a row, while Washington (13-9, 8-4) blew out ASU 87-64 in Seattle on Thursday night. The Wildcats beat the Huskies 95-79 in Tucson on Jan. 3 and have won five of the last six meetings with UW.

Here’s what to watch for on Saturday afternoon:

A much tougher task the second time around

Arizona was never really challenged by Washington in their first meeting, at least on the scoreboard, but that Huskies team came to McKale Center still figuring itself out. They’ve established their identity since then, winning eight of 11 to get into the hunt for a top-4 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament.

Washington leads the Pac-12 in turnover and steal percentage, getting a takeaway on 23.1 percent of possessions with 14.1 percent of defensive sets ending in a steal. Its aggressive zone forced 21 UA turnovers in January, scoring 25 points off them, and six other opponents since that game have turned it over on more than 20 percent of possessions.

Arizona continues to give the ball away far too much, and lately opponents are capitalizing more on those miscues. The UA has turned it over on more than 25 percent of possessions in consecutive games for the first time since December 2012, with ASU and Washington State each getting more than 40 percent of its points off turnovers.

Tangling with the league’s top scorer

Former UA guard Terrell Brown Jr. leads the Pac-12 in scoring, at 21.8 points per game, and he’s also Washington’s top steal man with 2.4 per game. He had 28 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals in the game in Tucson in January and won his second Pac-12 Player of the Week award late last month.

No one on the Huskies averages more than 11.3 points per game.

Brown is one of eight opposing players who have scored 20 or more against the UA this season, but since Brown the only other one to do so was Cal’s Jordan Shepherd (21) in a 25-point blowout.

Continued improvement from deep

Since going a combined 10 of 51 from 3-point range in the loss at UCLA and a home win over ASU, Arizona’s perimeter shooting has seen a marked improvement. The Wildcats have made at least 36.4 percent of their 3s in the last four games, going 8 of 19 from deep against WSU.

Scoring in the paint remains the primary focus, and a huge strength for the Wildcats at 56.8 percent for the season, but as teams do their best to deny the ball inside that will leave shooters open, as was the case on Thursday. Bennedict Mathurin and Kerr Kriisa were a combined 5 of 11, and at ASU Pelle Larsson was 3 of 3 and is up to 37.5 percent for the season.

Washington is 0-5 when an opponent shoots 40 percent from 3, including in all four conference losses.

Clear the glass

Arizona’s turnover issues have contributed to a large discrepancy in the number of shots it takes and its opponent takes, with the last five games seeing a 66-shot gap. Conversely, that’s led to big rebounding numbers for the Wildcats, who lead the nation with 43.9 boards per game.

The UA’s rebounding margin, 9.9, would be the second-best in school history. In Pac-12 play the margin is 8.8.

Washington is near the bottom in the conference in rebounding, though it has won the rebounding battle in five of the last six games. Nate Roberts is the only Husky averaging more than 5 boards per game in Pac-12 play, while Arizona has four and seven of its eight rotation players are averaging at least 4 per game in conference action.

The third straight road game curse

COVID-related postponements and reschedulings have made this the most convoluted (and difficult) Pac-12 schedule ever, with far more 3-game road swings than normal. This game marks the end of Arizona’s second such 3-game trip, with another on tap in two weeks when it plays at Utah, Colorado and USC in a 6-day span.

And those third games have not gone well for the visiting team. Including Arizona’s 16-point loss at UCLA on Jan. 25, road teams are 2-6 on the final leg of a 3-game trip and the average margin in those losses is 16.7 points.

The only teams to win that final game were Oregon, which swept a 3-game trip that began with a short bus ride up the road to rival Oregon State (and one back home immediately afterward) before visiting the Los Angeles schools, and UCLA, which won at Stanford on Tuesday after losing at both Arizona and ASU.

Arizona was able to come home after winning at ASU on Monday, leaving for this weekend’s games like normal on Wednesday afternoon, unlike the first go-around when the Wildcats went from the Bay Area to LA without coming back to Tucson. With two days between games at Colorado (Feb. 26) and USC (March 1) it remains to be seen if they’ll charter home during the gap.