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Rally Cats run into hot Huskies

Citizen Staff Writer



In a handful of games and parts of others, the Arizona basketball team has looked unbelievably good this season.

In fact, the Wildcats looked NCAA Tournament-worthy in victories over Gonzaga, Kansas and Houston and in a tough loss at USC.

“That’s something they couldn’t have faked,” said Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar, adding UA has played most teams close. “They couldn’t have faked they were that good. At any time, they are capable of playing like that.”

The Wildcats will have to play that way again when No. 23 Washington visits McKale Center on Thursday night. With 11 Pac-10 games left, UA needs to protect its home floor to keep alive any hopes of a 25th straight NCAA bid.

Washington, which has supplanted Cal as the Pac-10′s surprise team, leads the conference at 6-1. The Huskies (15-4) are ranked for the first time since 2007 after upsetting UCLA last week.

“Just because they beat UCLA doesn’t mean they can beat us,” UA’s Jordan Hill said, “or that they’re going to beat us. We’ve got to go out and play hard.”

UW was picked to finish fifth in the league race; Arizona fourth.

UA has some work to do at 2-5 in Pac-10 play, 12-8 overall. But the Cats have momemtum after rallying from a 10-point deficit in the final minute to beat Houston last week 96-90 in overtime.

Guard Nic Wise said it begins with UA’s defensive intensity, but interim coach Russ Pennell said the Wildcats also need to correct their turnover problem and get the ball to the right people.

“When we do it, we’ve been pretty good,” Pennell said.

A lot of it is mental, too, Pennell added: The players need to believe the Wildcats can play well all the time.

“That’s why (the Houston win) was so big,” Pennell said. “We played good in stretches. I honestly feel we played better against USC, and yet the USC (game) you look at it as a failure (because UA lost) and Houston was a success because you won.

“That’s the way we are measured. I’d rather play like we did against ‘SC than Houston, if that makes sense.”

Pennell likes the way UA has played the last three games, but now it’s about building momentum, “pushing forward” and trying to improve, he said.

“You never know when you’re going to get it going,” the coach said. “You could get a few wins in a row.”

There’s no time like the present for UA, a team trying to make it to its 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament. One of the criteria the NCAA Selection Committee looks at is how a team does is in its final 12 games.

UA has 12 contests left, including at least one game in the Pac-10 tournament. The big wins are all but a memory, but will be looked at by the NCAA committee.

“We need wins to crawl back in this thing, to keep our hopes up for postseason,” Pennell said. “We nee to win home games.”

No. 23 Washington (15-4, 6-1) at Arizona (12-8, 2-5)

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Line: UW by 1.5

TV: FSNA. Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM

More college basketball, 2C-3C

> Wash.-UA breakdown, stars to watch. 2C

> Hill set for battle with UW’s Brockman. 2C

> Top 25 men; UA women’s preview. 3C

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