BASKETBALL

Arizona basketball: Washington trip always the toughest

At least flying charter saves time, makes it easier for Wildcats
2012-02-16T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T10:45:06Z Arizona basketball: Washington trip always the toughestBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 16, 2012 12:00 am  • 

First-place California escaped a visit to McKale Center this season, thanks to the Pac-12's unbalanced schedule, but there are worse things in mind for Bears coach Mike Montgomery.

Specifically, Pullman, Wash.

"That's a tough trip," he said.

Montgomery said earlier this season that he'd rather play in Tucson than Pullman. Three weeks after he made that comment, guess what happened?

The Bears lost 77-75 to the Cougars, who are 4-2 at home in conference play despite being just 1-6 on the road. And while the Bears managed to win at Washington, the Huskies have won all six other home conference games so far, making the Washington teams a combined 10-3 at home this season in Pac-12 play.

Arizona, which will visit WSU tonight and Washington on Saturday, also knows the pain of the Washington swing all too well. The Wildcats are 1-5 in Washington during the past three seasons, and they have not swept the trip since 2005-06.

While the Huskies and Cougars have their own merits on the floor, those change from year to year. The unique geography of the trip never does: The travel between the schools usually requires an hourlong flight and three hours of round-trip driving, forcing coaches to answer these difficult questions:

1. How to get there?

The Wildcats used to have the toughest time of anybody in the Pac-12 in reaching Pullman. Typically they'd hop two flights just to reach Spokane, the nearest city with a major airport, then take a bus ride 90 minutes south to reach Pullman. If playing Washington first, they'd have to fly an hour from Seattle, then take the bus ride - and play the Cougars about 24 hours later.

But thanks to Pac-12's lucrative new media rights deal that begins next season, the Wildcats freed up funds to begin flying charter on most of their trips this season.

This weekend's charters may be the most valuable yet.

Arizona chartered to Spokane on Wednesday night, will take a bus to Pullman this afternoon and then take a 40-minute bus ride after the game to Lewiston, Idaho - where they will charter immediately to Seattle and arrive at about midnight.

That cuts about an hour off total travel time and avoids an overnight stay in Spokane tonight, giving the Wildcats 36 full hours in Seattle before facing the Huskies.

"It will be very beneficial," UA coach Sean Miller said.

2. Where to stay?

During Miller's first season, the Wildcats traveled straight to Pullman from Seattle and slept at a small hotel in nearby Moscow, Idaho.

They lost by 18 points the next day.

Accommodations can be critical, especially for Miller, who prefers that the Wildcats eat catered meals and attend meetings in top-notch business hotels. Last season, Miller decided to stay overnight at a luxury hotel in Spokane and make a day trip to Pullman, and the Wildcats are doing the same thing this time.

"You just try to put your team in the best position, and I believe staying in Spokane is the best position," Miller said.

He won't receive an argument from junior forward Solomon Hill, who is making his third trip to WSU.

"Staying in Moscow or something . . . it's always different," Hill said. "It's in the middle of nowhere, and you've got to take that long bus ride. Coach is changing it up this year. He's taking the steps."

3. Where to practice?

Although staying in Spokane may be more comfortable, it does not allow the Wildcats to become familiar with WSU's home, Friel Court at Beasley Coliseum.

Former UA coach Lute Olson used to try to merge the best of both worlds by staying in Spokane, then busing to WSU early the day of a game, then shooting around at Friel before checking into day rooms in Moscow to rest up before tipoff. But Miller said he prefers to keep it simple, and also doesn't mind the fact that the Wildcats won't see Friel Court until about two hours before tonight's game.

"I don't think" it matters, Miller said. "We weren't really able to do much at Stanford and some of the places we've been at recently because of the quick turnaround. Especially this late in the year, you've shot at so many different arenas at different times, at this point it's pretty much second-nature."

4. How to prepare?

The Washington swing was at its most difficult on the court in recent years when coaches Dick and Tony Bennett were running a slowdown style at WSU that was a complete contrast to the breakneck pace that Washington ran, making a stressful week for game scouts who had little time to prepare the Wildcats for both styles.

Under coach Ken Bone, the Cougars are actually averaging more points (70.5) than Arizona (69.7) in conference play, but they run a zone defense more often than Washington, which usually deploys an aggressive, gambling man-to-man.

The good news for the Wildcats is they had three full days this week to prepare for Washington State and, according to UA associate head coach James Whitford, their practice against the zone before the WSU game might also help if Washington pulls one out at times on Saturday.

It also could help the Wildcats that they have the bulk of the week to focus on WSU and then have the automatic incentives against Washington to help them turn around quickly Saturday.

In reverse, a big game against Washington on Thursday could lead to a letdown on Saturday at WSU - as UA so painfully experienced in 2006-07, an overtime loss that broke UA's 12-game winning streak and helped send the Wildcats tumbling toward a first-round NCAA tournament loss in Olson's final season.

Miller said it didn't matter to him which team the Wildcats face first, but he has been concerned about the Wildcats' effort Saturdays after Thursday games - particularly at home, following the Wildcats' near-loss to Utah last Saturday.

"I would like to think that our team understands that every game is an important one," Miller said. "None are more important than the next one. Utah is a great example of that. We focus exclusively on beating that first opponent. That's the only way I think you can do it."

On StarNet: Join a live fan chat as you watch the game at live.azstarnet.com and see an interactive Insider presentation on the Washington State game at: azstarnet.com/multimedia

Today

• Who: Arizona at Washington St.

• When: 7 p.m.

• TV: FSAZ

A tough Trek

Arizona's record during its five previous Pac-12 swings through Washington (Thursday games listed first):

2010-11

Washington L, 85-68

WSU W, 65-63

2009-10

Washington L, 81-75

WSU L, 78-60

2008-09

WSU L, 69-53

Washington L, 83-78

2007-08

Washington L, 75-66

WSU W, 65-55

2006-07

Washington W, 96-87

WSU L, 77-73 (ot)

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