After the miserable performances against Utah and Oregon State, the Huskies showed small bits of life in a somewhat narrow defeat to Oregon in Eugene. On the horizon is #8 Arizona that entails a fierce and competitive rivalry. The past two seasons have resulted in 5 extremely exciting matches, most of which have gone in the Huskies’ favor. The Wildcats look to be the much more talented bunch this time around, but at Hec-Ed in a rivalry game anything is possible.
The Wildcats started the season on a 14-0 tear that saw their squad rise as high as #4 in the polls. After a narrow 4 point loss in Eugene to Oregon, the Wildcats dropped a few slots only to rise following a pair of wins over OSU and a surprisingly good ASU Sun Devils team who will take on the Dawgs Saturday. The Wildcats were brought back to Earth in a crushing defeat at home to streaky UCLA who embarrassed the Wildcats 84-73. The Wildcats bounced back quickly with a hammering 24 point victory over struggling USC and look to have found more of the chemistry and skill play that elevated their team so highly in the non-conference season.
Arizona is not an incredibly deep team with only 7 players getting double digit minutes, but they have found success due to their overall talent level and fairly experienced roster that included 3 seniors and a junior who see significant playing time. 6-7 220lb senior forward, Solomon Hill, is averaging a team high 32 minutes a game and is second in scoring with 13.5 points a night. Hill has been a consistent player for the Wildcats throughout his 4 seasons, but has shown increased productivity since the start of his junior season following the departure of Pac-10 player of the Year, Derrick Williams. Desmond Simmons should prove a solid match-up for Hill if Simmons can break out of his recent slump and provide that hard-nosed style of play that raised his impact to a new level.
Mark Lyons, 6-1 200lbs, has picked up where he left off after transferring from Xavier with a team high 15 points and 3.1 assists a night. Lyons is tenacious with the ball and his driving ability along with solid outside shot make him an intimidating threat. When he isn’t hitting nearly 40% of his deep shots, he is distributing the ball to his teammates who have been averaging nearly 76 points per game. The Huskies will have to stay honest on Lyons and prevent him from developing a dangerous shooting rhythm. While Abdul Gaddy will likely get the starting nod and defensive assignment, I see Andrew Andrews taking the helm on this night and providing the quick, efficient, and effective defense that has rightly earned him his recent praise.
Kaleb Tarczewski should provide a great physical match-up for Aziz N’Diaye. The 7-0 255lb center is just a freshman, yet is averaging quite respectable numbers with 5.8 points and rebounds a night. Tarczewski is obviously still developing as a player as seen by his slightly lower minutes, with just over 20 per game, and his less than stellar free throw shooting. N’Diaye tends to perform better overall when matched with a player he can put his weight into and Tarczewski provides exactly that.
If this is a close game, the Wildcats have one distinct advantage that could prove murderous to the Huskies’ hope of an upset and critical tournament resume victory, team rebounding. The Wildcats have 4 players averaging 5 or more boards a night, whereas the Huskies rely almost entirely on the production of N’Diaye and Simmons. It is no coincidence that in the 4 victories to start conference play Simmons averaged nearly 9 boards a night and in the 3 losses following Simmons has averaged 4 rebounds. A big part of Thursday’s success, or lack thereof, rests on Simmons’ shoulders.
The Husky faithful will be needed to take down the Wildcats, no doubt about it. Could we see another cold-blooded performance or will it be another cold shooting night? Only time will tell.