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February 2, 2013

Slumping Wazzu awaits No. 8 Arizona

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While his team's scoring production took a dip in its last game, Arizona head coach Sean Miller only has good thoughts about his defense heading into Saturday's game at Washington State.

Judging by the numbers, the eighth-ranked Wildcats could be in for another suffocating performance against the lowly Cougars. Tipoff at Friel Court in Pullman, Wash., is scheduled for 7 p.m. PST.

The Wildcats (18-2, 6-2 Pac-12 Conference) had almost as many made field goals (20) as turnovers (17) Thursday night but prevailed, 57-53, at Washington. UA shot season lows from the field (35.1 percent) and the 3-point line (16.7 percent), and now will go up against the only Pac-12 team allowing fewer than 60 points per game.

But the 'Cats continued to impress on the other end of the floor to pull out its fourth win in the last five games. Sophomore Nick Johnson harassed Huskies leading scorer C.J. Wilcox into a 4-of-16 shooting night, and UW shot below 31 percent in the second half.

"Sometimes on the road when you can find a way and play great defense and learn, it means the world," Miller said. "Because you are not going to be perfect, especially in conference play."

In Arizona's last two road games, opponents are averaging just 53.5 points per game.

That does not bode well for WSU (11-10, 2-6 Pac-12), which comes into the game as the lowest scoring team in the league. The Cougars, losers in three of their last four games, not only average a mere 63.4 points this season, but also rank second-to-last with a 42.4 percent mark from the field.

Nearly 30.7 percent of WSU's points have been produced from beyond the arc - leading all Pac-12 teams - but the Cougars are just the conference's ninth-most accurate team at 33 percent. Meanwhile, Arizona, which has struggled defending the 3 this season, has improved the last two games.

On the season, opponents are shooting 35 percent against a 3-point field goal defense that is among the bottom one-third in the country. But USC and Washington converted a combined 18.8 percent from long distance against the Wildcats - including a 1-of-12 performance by the Dawgs.

WSU has a number of players who space the floor with the long-distance shot, including the league's reigning most improved player, Brock Motum. The 6-10 senior from Australia is third in the Pac-12 in scoring at 18.5 points, but his field goal percentage has dropped considerably from 55.4 percent last season to 45.9 percent through 21 games in 2012-13. He is coming off his worst output of the season, 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting Thursday in a 63-59 loss to Arizona State.

In last February's home meeting against the Wildcats, Motum scored a game-high 28 points in a 76-72 loss.

As of late, the Cougars' only other double-figure scorer has provided some help. Senior guard Mike Ladd is averaging 18.2 points on 58.6 percent shooting over the last five games, bumping his season average to 11.9 per contest.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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