TUCSON, Ariz. — The David versus Goliath metaphor pretty much sums up the Washington men’s basketball team’s tall task Saturday when it faces undefeated and No. 1-ranked Arizona in what’s expected to be another sold-out McKale Center.
Buoyed by a strong performance in a surprising victory Thursday at Arizona State in the Pac-12 opener, the Huskies (9-5, 1-0 Pac-12) pit their four-guard lineup against the Wildcats’ big, imposing front line loaded with giants destined for the NBA.
When asked what he expects from that matchup, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar smiled and said: “We’ll find out.”
On paper, it’s a mismatch that tilts toward Arizona (14-0, 1-0).
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The Wildcats plant 7-foot, 235-pound sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski beneath the basket. On both sides, his bookends include former McDonald’s All-Americans Aaron Gordon, a 6-9 freshman, and 6-8 sophomore Brandon Ashley.
Arizona’s backcourt isn’t too bad either.
Junior guard Nick Johnson is a defensive standout who leads the team with a 15.4-scoring average, while junior point guard T.J. McConnell ranks 17th nationally with an average of 6.2 assists a game.
When 6-10 forward Jernard Jarreau suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener, the Huskies switched to a four-guard lineup of senior C.J. Wilcox (6-5), junior Mike Anderson (6-4), freshman Nigel Williams-Goss (6-3) and sophomore Andrew Andrews (6-2).
Washington’s tallest starter is 6-9 forward Perris Blackwell.
“We’re going to have to be scrappy,” Romar said. “We can’t sit back and let them go at us. We have to be aggressive because we’re going to have a size disadvantage, obviously.”
Washington and Arizona produced three consecutive thrilling games decided on the final possession during the 2010-11 and ’11-12 seasons. However, the past three contests have been one-sided, including the Wildcats’ 70-52 home victory last year.
This season they’re even better, and it starts with their defense.
Arizona suffocated Washington State 60-25 in its Pac-12 opener. The Wildcats are allowing an average of 54.4 points a game, which ranks third nationally. Their opponents are shooting just 36.2 percent from the field, which ranks sixth in the country.
The Huskies believe it’s going to be important to score quickly in transition.
“We are small so we take that as an advantage with us on the offensive end. When any four of us get the ball (on a defensive rebound), it’s an instant fast break. That’s the strength of our team,” Williams-Goss said.
“Once (the Wildcats) get back and they’re set, you have all these panthers back there ready to pounce,” Romar said. “If we can get out and get some easy baskets, that would definitely help our cause.”
UW is 1-1 against top-ranked teams and 4-17 against ranked teams on their home courts since Romar took over in 2002.
It’s been 10 years since Washington knocked off No. 1 and undefeated Stanford, and five years since the Huskies toppled a ranked team in a true road game.
Still, Romar said he doesn’t believe it’s going to take a Superman effort to beat what appears to be a super Arizona team.
“A team like Arizona will capitalize on every mistake you make,” Romar said. “When we played UConn, we made mistakes and there it was. They make you pay for it. We played some other teams, we make mistakes, they don’t make a run.
“Arizona’s going to make us pay for it. We just have to be super efficient. We have to be mistake-free, mentally and on the floor.”
|Romar vs. No. 1|
|Washington is 2-27 against No. 1-ranked teams. However, the Huskies are 1-1 when facing top-ranked teams under coach Lorenzo Romar. Here’s a look at those games.|
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @percyallen