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Arizona looks to maintain control of Pac-12 at Washington

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

About halfway through conference play, the chances to make a move into the top of the Pac-12 standings are fading.

Even though the Arizona Wildcats (19-4, 9-1) struggled early on in the season in the Bahamas, where they didn’t win a single game, the team has bounced back and the Wildcats have dominated the Pac-12.

The Washington Huskies (16-6, 6-3), who are only 2.5 games behind the conference-leading Wildcats, can be remembered this season for their early upset against the then-No. 2 ranked Kansas Jayhawks. The success has continued, as the Huskies are riding a three-game winning streak, coming off an upset win over No. 25 Arizona State.

While the Huskies look to hand the Wildcats their second loss in the Pac-12 as they make a late push for that top spot in the Pac-12, Arizona will look to further its conference lead.

Essential Info

What: Arizona (19-4, 9-1 Pac-12) at Washington (16-6, 6-3 Pac-12)

When: Saturday, Feb. 3 at 8:30 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Network

Storylines to follow

The return of Lorenzo Romar

Romar coached Washington for 15 seasons, from 2002-2017, while becoming the second most winningest coach in Huskies basketball history. When Romar was in Seattle, he took Washington to six NCAA tournament appearances. After being fired from Washington last March, Romar then moved onto Tucson as an associate head coach.

“I want to make it clear that it hurt to no longer be the coach at the University of Washington,” Romar told the Seattle Times Friday. “But as I’ve said before and I feel even stronger this way, I have no complaints.”

Can Washington keep Arizona off the glass?

With Deandre Ayton, who averages a Pac-12 leading 10.7 rebounds a game, the Wildcats often dominate the glass.

Arizona leads the conference rebounding margin. They average a rebounding edge of 6.4 a game, nearly two rebounds more than Stanford, the next best team. On the other hand, Washington is near the bottom in that category with a minus-1.0 rebound margin.

This glowing disparity could be what sets the tone for the game, as Arizona attempts to limit extra opportunities to an already bad offensive rebounding Huskie team, while also trying to take advantage on the offensive glass.

Can Washington stop the stars?

This is a key for every team that tries to beat the Wildcats. Allonzo Trier and Deandre Ayton are the top-two scorers in the Pac-12 both averaging 19 points a game.

It will be interesting to see if Washington coach Mike Hopkins can create a game plan to stop one, or both, of the Arizona stars.

Key players

Deandre Ayton: Ayton may be the most dominant player in the Pac-12, as he’s leading the conference in rebounds and field goal percentage, is second in points per a game with 19.7 and third in blocks per a game with 1.8. In the Wildcats’ last game against Washington State, Ayton got a double-double, getting 11 rebounds and 25 points on 11-of-12 shooting.

Allonzo Trier: While leading the Pac-12 in points per a game with 19.9, the junior guard is doing it extremely efficiently by shooting 54.4 percent this season. Trier showcased this Wednesday, as he was tremendous shooting last game against Washington State. Trier shot 8-for-8 from the field, including 4-for-4 from behind the arc and 4-of-5 from the free throw line. In 28 minutes, Trier scored 24 points as the Wildcats routed the Cougars 100-72.

Jaylen Nowell: The Washington freshman guard is the Huskies’ leading scorer, averaging 16.6 points a game. This average puts Nowell as the only Washington player in the top 10 of Pac-12 scorers. This season the freshman is shooting 49 percent from the field, 32.8 percent from behind the arc and 81 percent from the free throw line. Even though Nowell had a bit of an off night against No. 25 ASU Thursday, shooting 6-of-15 while scoring 15 points, he should have a better performance against Arizona.

Matisse Thybulle: The junior Washington guard has the third most steals per game in the NCAA with a whopping 3.18 average. He is leading the Pac-12 by a large margin and forcing turnovers could turn out to be huge for the Huskies in getting extra possession that way, since they struggle to get those on the glass.

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