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January 31, 2013

No. 8 Arizona looks to end drought in Seattle

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Tom Hanks may have been sleepless, but Arizona remains winless in Seattle during the Sean Miller era.

The eighth-ranked Wildcats will look to flip the script Thursday in a Pac-12 Conference showdown with the Huskies. Tipoff at Alaska Airlines Arena is scheduled for 6 p.m. PST.

"In the past three years, I'd say it's the best arena, in terms of atmosphere, that we go to," said Miller, who is 0-3 as the Wildcats' head coach at the former Hec Ed Pavilion. "The crowd is revved up, it's always packed, energized. We've played against three really good (different Washington) teams, too."

UA (17-2, 5-2 Pac-12) is coming off a bounce-back, 20-point win over USC.

Miller said the tendency nowadays is to "start to nitpick" after a single loss when a team is rolling, but added that a game against Arizona is typically the biggest game of the year for many opponents.

"I thought the USC game was more of a telling response," Miller said, "because you lose a game, the world is crumbling around you. The outside world does so many things to pull a team apart.

"But expectations are high. We've set the bar high because we won 14 in a row. We're ranked high, nationally. When you lose, it's 'what's wrong?' And I understand that."

UW (12-8, 4-3 Pac-12) has cooled off after opening conference action with four consecutive victories. The Huskies' third consecutive setback came in a five-point decision at No. 10 Oregon.

But Miller sees a team that is "no question, in the upper tier" of the conference despite the recent struggles. Miller noted that five of UW's seven league contests - including the first three - were played on the road, and he sees a bright road ahead for the Dawgs in the second half of the Pac-12 slate.

"They've had a chance to win the games that they've lost," Miller said. "They've been in every game. The difference between them being 4-3 and 5-2 or 6-1 is just a few plays."

Despite losing the star, first-team all-conference backcourt of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross early to the NBA, Miller said Lorenzo Romar's group has plenty of senior leadership and production in point guard Abdul Gaddy and center Aziz N'Diaye.

"They have experience at the five and at the one with Aziz and Gaddy," Miller said. "Those guys know how to win, they've played in big games."

There are three keys Arizona plans to focus on in an attempt to end the drought in the Great Northwest: Limit the turnovers against the Washington pressure, prevent second-chance opportunities on the glass and slow down the Huskies' leading scorer.

Junior C.J. Wilcox is averaging 19 points per game this season, and that has improved to an even 20 in Pac-12 play.

Wilcox makes up for 27.3 percent of the team's 69.4 points per game, so Miller said the plan for most teams is to focus on containing the 6-5 guard.

"I think they have one of the most dynamic players, not only in our conference but in the country, in Wilcox," Miller said. "It's hard to score 20 points per game in conference play through seven games, and, yet, that's what he does."

The Dawgs also come into the game as the league's top offensive rebounding team at 12.8 per contest.

Although UW does not apply the same defensive pressure as the teams of the recent past, Miller said his last two keys to the game have more to do with not allowing the Huskies' boisterous home crowd to get involved.

"We need to play at our highest level," Romar said, "and we need the crowd to be at its highest level. And I know what that highest level is like."

Arizona senior Solomon Hill, also in search of his first win against UW, said the "interactive" student section does its research and can get creative with some of the taunts.

"They've yelled out various phone numbers of people on the team," Hill said. "They've had a website where they break down, individually, every player's things that he likes and things about him, pictures."

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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