Greg Hansen: Wildcats for real as Big Game looms

2011-02-18T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T19:32:27Z Greg Hansen: Wildcats for real as Big Game loomsGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 18, 2011 12:00 am  • 

The early list of celebrities scheduled to be at McKale Center for Saturday's mini-Armageddon against the Washington Huskies includes Tedy Bruschi and Jason Terry, who, if you took a vote, might be the most popular Wildcats of the last 100 years.

So no, it won't be Oregon State out there, and it won't be a regional telecast on Fox Sports Somewhere, but rather on almighty ESPN, going everywhere.

Part of the drama will be that Terry (say it ain't so, JT) is on record saying he will be cheering for the Huskies. Can you believe it? Old No. 31 is so tight with Huskies point guard Isaiah Thomas that he will forsake his alma mater in the most meaningful game at McKale since Salim Stoudamire shot down UCLA to virtually clinch the 2005 Pac-10 title.

The other part is that, at 22-4, Arizona is ready to test itself to what coach Sean Miller calls "outside eyes."

"The game's going to be on us quickly," Miller said after the Wildcats systematically whipped Wazzu 79-70 Thursday. But this time, "quickly" doesn't apply. Tucson has waited six years to play in the Pac-10's Biggest Game of the Year, and if you don't already have your special white T-shirt for the inaugural White Out at McKale, what are you waiting for?

The latest to stump for Arizona as a certifiably dangerous team is WSU coach Ken Bone, who walked out of the Cougars' locker room Thursday night and endorsed this warm-and-fuzzy club that started the year as nobody's idea of a conference champion or, pinch yourself, the nation's No. 12-ranked team.

"There's a reason why Arizona is ranked whatever they are ranked and why they win so much at home," said Bone. "They keep coming at you with different kids that are good college players.

"They have so many weapons. They're just so deep. You may stop one, two, three, four or five guys, but there is still someone else that can play. That's why those teams are in the Top 20."

As Bone was chatting to a small group of reporters in a McKale corridor, Derrick Williams and Jordin Mayes walked by, en route to the trainer's room. Williams had scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds, but Bone's assessment of the Wildcats applied more to someone like Mayes. He scored just two points on Thursday, but he played 11 useful minutes.

He is part of that "so many weapons" description that has allowed Arizona to win 11 of its 13 Pac-10 games. On Thursday, Kevin Parrom and Jamelle Horne combined to score 12 points in 32 minutes. All 12 seemed to come when the Wildcats needed a lift. It all adds up.

"They are good at sharing the ball, they're patient," said WSU's Klay Thompson, who scored 30 points (it only seemed like 40). "Good teams don't beat themselves. Arizona didn't allow that to happen."

When the Cougars made their final run and trailed 70-63 with 4:15 remaining, center DeAngelo Casto missed an uncontested tomahawk dunk. On WSU's next possession, Thompson lost the ball out of bounds on an awkward pass. It was an unforced error.

The Cougars were beating themselves just long enough for Arizona to stretch its lead to 75-63, a death blow being a Solomon Hill three-pointer from the corner, which was a play typical of Arizona's "so many weapons" theme.

Arizona is 14-0 at McKale . It hasn't gone undefeated at home since 1999 (when good old Jason Terry was a consensus All-American). It lost here five times last year and five times in 2007 and, for the first time in 20 years, seats were empty and the decibel level diminished.

But the roar has returned to the gracefully aging arena. It should be pulsating with adrenalin by Saturday at 4 p.m.

"I love McKale," said Miller. "When you guys were watching us in December, asking us all the time if we wanted more people, I always felt it was packed. I think we have one of the best home courts in the country. Our student section is fantastic."

Through 26 games, it's safe to assume Arizona isn't a fluke. The Wildcats lead the Pac-10 in five significant categories: field goal percentage, three-point percentage, foul-shooting percentage, rebounding defense and three-point shooting defense.

Now's the time to see how good they are.

"We talked to our team about the great respect we have for Washington," said Miller. "When you show up for our game Saturday, you'd better be ready. Washington isn't a team that's going to come in here not believing."

The Huskies are older and have more size than Arizona, and they can match the UA's depth. But after 22 victories, the Wildcats might not need Jason Terry to make it 23.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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