Arizona looks to stay sharp vs. struggling Washington

NCAA Basketball

The collective mental state of Arizona’s players is a question mark heading into Thursday night’s Pac-12 Conference contest against Washington in Seattle.

Arizona (7-1, 1-1) played its best game of the season Monday night in an 88-74 win over Colorado in its conference home opener. The good vibes didn’t last long.

A day later, the school self-imposed a one-year postseason ban amid an ongoing NCAA investigation into recruiting violations that included the September 2017 arrest of former assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson.

Arizona won’t play in the Pac-12 tournament nor any other postseason tourney in 2021.

“Our team will remain united and aggressively compete to win a Pac-12 championship,” coach Sean Miller said in a statement.

The Wildcats will get a chance to show their motivation for a Pac-12 regular-season title against the struggling Huskies (1-6, 0-2), whose last game also came against Colorado. Washington lost 92-69 to the Buffaloes on Dec. 20 in a nonconference game at the Far West Classic in Las Vegas.

Arizona shot 52.6 percent against Colorado, committed only eight turnovers and got to the free throw line 27 times.

“We executed. We made shots. That’s always a part of it,” Miller said. “But when you play a game in the Pac-12 with eight turnovers, I think any coach in our conference would take that. That’s a great stat.”

James Akinjo made five 3-pointers and scored 22 points with eight assists, pushing his season scoring average to 14.5. Backcourt mate Jemarl Baker Jr. leads Arizona at 15.3 points per game and is shooting 43.8 percent (21 of 48) from 3-point range.

The Huskies are looking for more offense after averaging 61.0 points through seven games and shooting 25.4 percent (35 of 138) from beyond the arc.

Coach Mike Hopkins looked to Nate Pryor, a transfer from North Idaho College, for a spark against Colorado. Pryor played a season-high 36 minutes in his second start, scoring 15 points on 7-of-17 shooting and contributing five assists and three steals.

He’s not much of a 3-point threat (2 of 8 for the season), but his ability to handle and create allow leading scorer Quade Green (14.4 points per game) to move off the ball for more scoring opportunities.

“Obviously, we’ve been hurt with our offensive starts and our offense in general,” Hopkins said. “But defensively, that’s the one thing we’ve got to be able to hang our hat on.”

Hopkins’ pressure 2-3 zone is holding opponents to 40.7 percent shooting, but the Huskies’ offense is managing only 39.8 percent from the field.

In addition to Colorado, Montana is another common opponent. Arizona beat the visiting Grizzlies 70-64 on Dec. 22, while Washington lost at home 66-58 on Dec. 16.

–Field Level Media

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