Arizona was chasing Washington in the Pac-10 race when the teams met in Seattle last month. With a season-best seven straight victories since that defeat, the 12th-ranked Wildcats are now the team to beat.
Arizona looks to extend its longest single-season Pac-10 winning streak since 2002-03 on Saturday when it faces a Huskies team hoping a victory in its final league road game can propel it to the regular-season title.
Looking to snap a three-game skid visiting Washington (18-7, 10-4), the Wildcats (22-14, 11-2) fell 1 1/2 games back with an 85-68 loss Jan. 20.
Arizona had no answer for junior guard Isaiah Thomas, who had 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.
“If he’s not one of the top four or five point guards in the country, then I’m going to tell you I want to invite these guys who vote to come and watch film,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said after his team’s three-game winning streak ended.
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar has seen plenty of Derrick Williams’ highlights. The Arizona sophomore, the league’s second-highest scorer at 19.5 points per game, had 22 and 11 rebounds in last month’s loss at Washington, but he struggled against the Huskies’ zone defense as the Wildcats were outscored 20-9 in the final six-plus minutes.
Williams hit all 12 of his free throws and had 26 points and eight rebounds as Arizona won its seventh in a row on Thursday, 79-70 over Washington State. It was one of his better efforts since getting his pinky bent backward in a matchup versus UCLA on Jan. 27.
“I think big picture-wise, he’s going to be returning back to form,” Miller said.
Back on track following the Washington loss, the Wildcats have matched the team’s longest winning streak since a 12-game stretch from Nov. 15, 2006-Jan. 4, 2007. They own a one-game lead over the Bruins and are trying to win eight straight in league play for the first time since the final 10 games of 2002-03.
Arizona, which has won 16 straight at the McKale Center, also seeks its fifth straight home win over the Huskies.
“Washington’s record and who they are both in the conference and nationally mean that they are going to be the best team we face at home this season,” Miller said.
The Huskies have lost 25 of 31 at Arizona, but they enter this matchup with plenty of confidence following Thursday’s 79-62 victory at Arizona State.
The team lost junior guard Scott Surges, the Pac-10’s best 3-point shooter, to a sprained MCL in the first half, but senior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning posted his eighth double-double of the season with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman guard C.J. Wilcox hit four 3s and scored 16 off the bench as Washington snapped a three-game road losing streak.
The Huskies have won three in a row following a three-game skid.
“We’ve learned these last few weeks to keep our composure when things aren’t going our way,” Bryan-Amaning told the school’s official website.
The Huskies were swept in their Arizona swing last season, but if Romar’s team can sweep this “make or break” trip, Washington would be in a good position to win the Pac-10 with home games against Washington State, UCLA and USC.
“I would say this is a big game,” Romar said. “There’s a lot at stake.”
Arizona leads the all-time series 43-25.