The Wildcats (18-8, 9-4) face the Washington State Cougars (13-12, 5-8) Thursday night at Friel Court in Pullman, Washington. Arizona is hitting its stride at the right time. They have climbed their way from the middle of Pac into a tie for second place in the conference. After a great win against Colorado, Arizona fans were holding their breath Saturday afternoon as Utah controlled the game for most of the contest. Arizona was able to battle back courtesy of the stellar play of Nick Johnson and Branden Lavender, in particular shooting. If the Cats wish to be playing come late March, they must close out of the season strong and it starts with the Washington State Cougars. The Cougars have been sub-par thus far and are coming off a road split in Oregon, losing to the Ducks but beating the Beavers. Last time these two teams met in Tucson, Arizona handled the Cougars through their long distance shooting, making 15 of 26. Seniors Kyle Fogg and Branden Lavender accounted for 8 of them, while Solomon Hill added a double double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. The Cats certainly won’t be shooting 58% behing the arc come Thursday, but here’s a look inside Miller’s Chalkboard for a few key points to an Arizona victory.
START OFF STRONG: The Wildcats looked as if they were hungover on Saturday (literally), playing lazy and not to their usual up-in-your-face type defense. Their play in the first half and even some of the second almost led to a huge blow and could have cost the season. Luckily Arizona figured it out and were able to pull out a victory. We have come this far and are within one game of the lead in the Pac 12; we can’t let off the gas now. Starting the game right Thursday night is essential to having an opportunity to win the game come crunch time.
BENCH PLAY: Arizona is short-handed by injuries, but Lavender and Chol have made most of their opportunity. Both have become huge components in Arizona’s recent success, B Lav more so on offense and Chol more on defense. Last meeting with the Cougars, Lavender was lights out from long range, making 4 out of 5, and will hopefully provide that same type of spark this game. Chol has been on a tear lately denying opponents shots, while making his own on offense. He has accumulated 10 blocks and 18 points over the past four games. His post presence is much appreciated, especially against a team like Washington State with a crafty big man in Brock Motum.
DEFENSE: The Cougars shoot a great 47.1 percent from the field (good for third in the Pac 12) and 37.6 percent from behind the arc on the season. While most of their offense runs through big man Brock Motum, their guards can knock down open shots, especially from long distance. The Wildcats counter these numbers with their defense, holding opponents to 40% from the field. If the Wildcats play good defense and make the Cougars take tough shots, the Cats’ job will be much easier to come away with the victory.
COUGS TO WATCH: Senior Center Brock Motum leads his team in points per game and rebounds per game at 17.4 and 6.4 respectively. Junior Guard Reggie Moore does a little bit of everything for the Cougars and averaged 11 points and 8.5 assists in two games during their recent road trip to the Oregon schools. You may remember last time in Tucson, Senior guard Faisal Aden hurt his knee and ended up tearing his ACL. Aden was a huge blow for the Cougars as he was averaging 25 points a game his last three games and already had 6 points in 11 minutes before getting hurt on a drive to the basket against the Cats January 26th.
PREDICTIONS: Wildcats need to close out their last two-game road trip with a sweep and it starts Thursday night against Washington State. The Cats will handle business, 76-67 BEARDOWN!