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January 21, 2011

Washington Gets Statement Win Over Arizona

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:51 am

SEATTLE – The Washington Huskies have established themselves as the favorite in the Pac-10 and reached No. 6 in the Pomeroy Rankings despite something we would not expect of a power-conference team. Entering Thursday’s showdown for first place in the conference against the Arizona Wildcats, Washington had beaten no opponent rated better than No. 52 (USC) by Pomeroy.

Aside from last Thursday’s stumble at Stanford, the Huskies have dominated lesser competition, but they lost three close games to the ranked teams on their non-conference schedule–Kentucky and Michigan State in the Maui Invitational and Texas A&M in College Station. So it was that Washington took the floor at the newly renamed Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion with something to prove. It wasn’t always pretty and it certainly was not easy, but the Huskies did just that with an 85-68 victory that improved their record to 6-1 in conference play.

A late explosion for 16 points in the final 5:14 crept Washington’s total up toward the nation’s second-best scoring average (87.1 points per game), but it was an offensive slog for the Huskies for much of the night. They missed good looks from beyond the arc, shooting 7-of-23 (30.4 percent) on threes and failed to take full advantage of their 31 free throw attempts, making just 20 of them. Still, three factors helped Washington pull away in a game that was back and forth until the closing minutes.

1. An Underrated Defense
The Huskies’ potent attack has overshadowed the fact that they are effective at the other end of the floor as well–tops in the Pac-10, in fact. Arizona managed just 46.5 percent effective shooting from the field. The length of 7’0″ Aziz N’Diaye presented Derrick Williams some problems in the early going, and while the nation’s most efficient high scorer put up 22 points, it took him 15 shot attempts, seven free throws and three turnovers to get there. Washington has had a tough time keeping quality opponents away from the offensive glass, but did an excellent job of rebounding Thursday, especially when Lorenzo Romar called for a zone defense to try to neutralize Williams. The Wildcats secured but 20.6 percent of available offensive rebounds. The defense is good enough to keep UW in games where shots aren’t falling, which is why they have yet to be out of any game they’ve lost entering the final minute.

2. Wing Options
In the first half, it looked as if the problem that cropped up against the Cardinal might be problematic again for the Huskies: The need for a guard besides Isaiah Thomas to be effective at both ends of the floor. The loss of Abdul Gaddy to a torn ACL has made this a potential issue when none of the team’s shooting guards–starter Scott Suggs, high-scoring freshman Terrence Ross and the slumping C.J. Wilcox–is shooting the ball well and Venoy Overton drifts out of control. After halftime, it was Overton who stepped forward, energizing the home crowd with his feisty defense and a pair of end-to-end layups. When Overton picked up his fourth foul, Ross stepped in to provide some timely point production. He had six points in a span of three and a half minutes as Washington extended its lead from a perilous six to a comfortable 13.

3. Thomas the Maestro
Gaddy’s injury has actually proven something of a blessing in terms of allowing Thomas to step into more ballhandling duties. He has proven more than capable, conducting the Huskies’ offense and making the right decision time and again, whether that means calling his own number or setting up teammates beyond the arc or at the rim. For the second consecutive game, Thomas went for 20-plus points (22) and double-digit assists (10), a feat few point guards in the country can match on a regular basis. Thomas also collected six rebounds and, best of all, turned the ball over just once in 35 minutes of action.

BONUS HOWLAND NOTE: Technically, only Sean Miller‘s fourth timeout was a true “Howland”–one called when the next stoppage of play will result in a mandatory TV timeout, thus rendering any momentum-stopping value largely ceremonial–but it was not an impressive display of timeout stewardship by Arizona’s coach. Miller called a pair of first-half timeouts, then used his third after the first possession back from the break. That meant Miller’s Howland left him with just one stoppage of play for the final 11:15 of the game. He was powerless to stop the Washington run that proved decisive in the last five and half minutes.

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