Arizona looks for breakthrough at Washington

TUCSON, Ariz. – Talk about tough places to play in the Pac-12 Conference. Arizona coach Sean Miller has his first choice, and you might be surprised to learn its identity.

Then again, Miller never did take an Arizona team to Maples Pavilion for a game against the Stanford Cardinal on its once-springy court in front of half-crazed, clever-witty student section.

He was around, however, to take the Wildcats to the rickety bandbox of McArthur Court in Eugene to play the Oregon Ducks – and won.

Same for famed Pauley Pavilion, a place steeped deep and rich in basketball tradition. He’s been there and done that – won, of course – at every Pac-12 road venue save for two — and Colorado hardly counts, since the Wildcats have played their only once, which hardly makes for a trend.

The one glaring exception is Washington’s Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. Miller joked this week that it wouldn’t matter if there weren’t any fans in the arena; it would still be tough. He’ll have no such luck on Thursday. It should be filled with loud, obnoxious students decked out in purple.

Let’s remember this is the same student section that once found out former UA star Channing Frye’s cell phone and chanted it all game.

“It’s very meaningful,” Miller said, of getting a win in Seattle. “No one knows that more than us. Hopefully we can change that.”

He added later: “They’ve had their way with us.”

Arizona, 17-2 overall and 5-2 in the conference, has been the ragdoll to Washington’s Dawg.

Miller and his seniors are 0 for 3 at Hec Ed, where the eighth-ranked Wildcats return on Thursday to take on Washington in an ESPN-televised game. All told, Miller has lost five of his last six against the Huskies, and under three different coaches, the Wildcats have lost five consecutive games in Seattle.

“We can’t just say we’re going to go up there and it’s going to be easy,” said UA senior Solomon Hill.

It does help, Hill said, to know that Arizona does have the best conference road record over the last three years: 16-14 over the last three-plus years.

“It does give us confidence to know we always prepare with a great game plan on the road,” Hill said. “It’s built for success.”

It just hasn’t been against the Huskies.

“In the past three years I’ll say it’s the best arena in terms of atmosphere that we go to,” Miller said. “The crowd is revved up. It’s always packed and energized. We’ve also played against three really good teams, too.”

Washington (12-8, 4-3 Pac-12) has had its troubles of late, losing its last three games to stand in fifth place in conference, but Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said it’s no time to panic.

“In the 10 years we’ve been here, three of those years we’ve been 14-4 in the league and we won the league twice,” Romar said on his radio show. “We missed winning the league once by one game.

“In other years, including two Sweet 16 years, we lost three games in a row in conference and we were able to come back. A couple of guys played more. Some guys played less. We finally got it. We finally caught on and went on to play good basketball. So we’ve been able to come back before.”

Miller doesn’t want it to come at Arizona’s expense. He knows Washington is capable. With leading scorer C.J. Wilcox, veteran playmaker Abdul Gaddy and the Huskies’ ability to grab rebounds and create turnovers, Miller knows the Wildcats are in for a battle.

“They have a talented team, and I know anytime you play at their home court you’ll get a good team that’s ready to go,” he said. “We know what we’re getting. Whether they’ve won or lost that’s irrelevant.”

If Thursday’s game is like any of the previous games during Miller’s tenure – it will be close. Romar said it feels like “Just about everyone goes down to the last shot … There’s just been some great ball games.”

And when those games have been played at Hec Ed, it’s been the Huskies on the winning side.