Washington-Arizona Preview

The Pac-10 has had a different tournament champion each of the

past four seasons, and top-seeded Arizona would like to make it

five.

Washington would like to give the conference something unusual –

a back-to-back winner.

The 16th-ranked Wildcats look for their first Pac-10 tournament

crown in nine years Saturday night at Staples Center against the

No. 3 seed Huskies.

Arizona (27-6) hasn’t been the powerhouse it once was since the

Pac-10 tournament was reinstated in 2002, which was also the last

time it left downtown Los Angeles with the championship.

It’s only been back once, losing in 2005 to Washington (22-10),

but is in great position to give the conference what it’s had every

year since Oregon won in 2007 – a different champ. The Wildcats got

22 points from Pac-10 player of the year Derrick Williams in

Thursday’s 78-69 quarterfinal win over Oregon State, then watched

him score 20 in a 67-62 victory against USC in Friday’s

semifinals.

This stay has been quite a difference from Arizona’s visit to

Los Angeles two weekends earlier, when it lost to the Trojans and

was blown out by UCLA.

“We played better. We handled it better,” coach Sean Miller

said. “I thought part of what’s helped us here this weekend is we

came here trying to be better than we were a couple weeks ago, and

our team is more together and has a better mindset.

“If there was a total team win we had this season, tonight was

the night.”

Its assignment for the final won’t be easy. In addition to being

the conference’s reigning tournament champion, the Huskies

throttled the Wildcats 85-68 in Seattle on Jan. 20 behind 22 points

apiece from Isaiah Thomas and Justin Holiday.

Arizona barely got revenge Feb. 19 in Tucson. The Wildcats

survived 87-86 after Williams swatted Darnell Grant’s last-second

floater.

Williams averaged 24.0 points and 11.0 rebounds – and 5.0

turnovers – in the two games against the Huskies.

Washington (84.2 points per game) and Arizona (76.9) are the

Pac-10’s two highest-scoring teams, but after thriving in an

up-and-down pace in the quarterfinals, the Huskies slowed down

Friday. Coach Lorenzo Romar’s team avenged two losses to Washington

State with an 89-87 victory Thursday, then limited Oregon to 32.1

percent shooting in a 69-51 semifinal win.

Thomas, the reigning Pac-10 tournament MVP, was just 2 of 11

against the Ducks, but tied a tournament single-game record with 12

assists. He wasted no time looking ahead to another matchup with

Arizona.

“We know what it takes to win,” said Thomas, who averaged 17.0

points and 10.0 assists versus the Wildcats this season. “They got

us last time and we want some revenge.”

Williams certainly does his share of scoring inside, but he’s

also a remarkable 35 for 57 (61.4 percent) from 3-point range for a

team that shoots 40.2 percent beyond the arc – among the 10 best in

the country. The Wildcats are 18-0 when they make at least 40

percent of their 3s.

Washington, meanwhile, attempts more 3s (23.7 per game) than

anyone in the Pac-10 – making 37.2 percent.

A lot of those looks come from Thomas’ penetration, but the

Huskies are at their best when their junior point guard is creating

his own offense. Washington is 16-3 when Thomas scores at least 16

points, and 6-7 when he has 15 or fewer.

Arizona is the only team to win consecutive Pac-10 tournament

titles, capturing four straight from 1988-2002. There was no

tournament from 1991-2001.