Arizona coach Sean Miller didn’t panic after rare back-to-back conference losses earlier this month.
Two straight wins - and a loss by a Pac-12 rival - have everyone on the 12th-ranked Wildcats feeling better as they try to hand league-worst Washington State its eighth consecutive defeat and sixth in a row in this series Saturday in Tucson.
After opening conference play by winning eight of 10, Arizona (22-4, 10-4) fell 77-69 to visiting California on Feb. 10 and suffered a 71-58 road loss to Colorado four days later. It was the first time the Wildcats had dropped consecutive league games since Feb. 24 and 26, 2011.
“It’s never as bad as it seems and the sky isn’t falling,” Miller said at the time.
Things are now looking up for the Wildcats, who are back in a tie atop the Pac-12 with No. 23 Oregon, which lost 48-46 to Cal on Thursday.
“It’s good to get a great win in front of your home crowd, a place where we’ve dropped two,” senior Solomon Hill said. “It’s something we want to change. We don’t want to lose at home.”
The Wildcats, who have just one more home game after Saturday’s contest - the regular-season finale March 9 against Arizona State - are trying to avoid losing three conference games in Tucson for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Washington State (11-16, 2-12) hasn’t won anywhere since a 71-68 victory at Oregon State on Jan. 26. The Cougars hope to avoid their first eight-game losing streak since a 14-game skid in 2003 after opening a three-game stretch of road games with a 69-57 loss to the Sun Devils on Wednesday.
Coach Ken Bone’s team went 6 of 23 from 3-point range after the Cougars had hit 26 of 56 from beyond the arc in the previous two games, a one-point loss to Oregon State and an overtime defeat against Oregon.
Washington State has six players with at least 21 made 3s, including 6-foot-10 forwards Brock Motum and D.J. Shelton. Motum leads the team with 17.8 points per game, and Shelton hit half of the Cougars’ six 3s in a 79-65 home loss to Arizona on Feb. 2.
Miller wants freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski to play tough perimeter defense against those two.
“He’s gotten better even in that area,” Miller said of the 7-footer. “That is going to be the challenge on Saturday when we play Washington State because they really spread you out. We have to do a really good job defending the 3-point line.”
Arizona held the Huskies to 1 of 11 from beyond the arc Wednesday.
The Cougars will have to keep an eye on Hill, who hit a career-best six 3s - all in the first half - earlier this month at Washington State. Wildcats leading scorer Mark Lyons scored a game-high 20 points as Arizona won its fifth straight in the series following a three-game skid.
Senior forward Kevin Parrom, who has started the last two games for Arizona in place of freshman Brandon Ashley, was ejected from the Feb. 2 game for a flagrant foul on DaVonte Lacy, who tied Motum with a team-best 15 points.
Parrom was scoreless Wednesday while Ashley contributed 10 points off the bench. Hill scored 19 for his 15th consecutive game in double figures.