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February 23, 2013

Ailing Cougars up next for recharged No. 12 'Cats

Twelfth-ranked Arizona will look to build off its most impressive victory in weeks Saturday and maintain its first-place standing in the Pac-12 Conference.

The Wildcats (22-4, 10-4 Pac-12), who are coming off an 18-point victory over Washington, will look to extend their winning streak to three games against last-place Washington State (11-16, 2-12 Pac-12). Tipoff at McKale Center is scheduled for 1 p.m. MST.

The 70-52 win over the Huskies gave UA's its largest margin of victory since a 20-point home win over USC on Jan. 26. A day later, California scored a road win at No. 23 Oregon to knock the Ducks into a tie with the 'Cats atop the league standings.

UA head coach Sean Miller welcomed the blowout victory, just his team's second since the win over the Trojans.

"It can beat you down being in close games. All of us," Miller said after the game. "We've been in so many that every once in awhile, to be in the situation we were in tonight, it helps you moving forward with confidence as we approach the next game."

Wildcats senior Solomon Hill led a balanced attack, scoring a game-high 19 points to pace five double-digit scorers.

Among the welcoming sights for Miller was the play of his freshmen big men - in particular, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley. The duo combined to make 7 of 11 shots, score 10 points apiece and account for 13 rebounds.

Now with just four regular season games remaining, the first-year tag is no longer a crutch for all of his freshmen, Miller said.

"I've talk to them about that all the time," Miller said. "The amount of minutes they've played, the practices they've been apart of; they've played against virtually every style that you can have. Now, they've played everybody in our conference once, a couple teams now twice.

"As we head toward the end of February, they aren't freshmen anymore. They know how to do things, and we're counting on them."

In search of momentum, the Wildcats will now look to maintain a level of consistency against a lowly Cougars team that hung around before falling 79-65 earlier this season in Pullman, Wa.

After trailing by as many as 19, WSU cut the deficit down to 10 with 3:47 before fading down the stretch. Maintaining leads had been as issue of late for the Wildcats, but Hill said the ability to close the door on the Huskies was an important step in the right direction.

"Coach [Miller] really brought it up that we're not the same team in the second half that we are in the first half," Hill said. "It was a great feeling to know that a team wasn't really pressing to come back. We did a good job."

While the Wildcats are firmly in the hunt for a Pac-12 championship, the Cougars are looking to avoid the first eight-game losing streak since a 14-game slide in 2003.

WSU's last victory was a 71-68 victory at Oregon State on Jan. 26.

The Cougs are coming off a 69-57 loss at Arizona State. The 57 points scored were WSU's fewest since scoring 49 against Colorado on Jan. 19.

Mike Ladd, the team's second-leading scorer, is expected to miss his fourth consecutive game with a left knee injury. In his absence, Brock Motum, DaVonte Lacy and Royce Woolridge have accounted for 77.5 percent of the offense in the past three games.

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Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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