Washington shook off the shooting doldrums in a 61-percent first half, then lost focus. But the 77-69 win over Arizona State sets up an anticipated showdown Saturday against Arizona.
Predictably, even the Washington Huskies became bored with the lounge act.
Undermanned Arizona State (4-10, 8-18) was overwhelmed in the first half at Alaska Airlines Arena, falling behind by 20. The cruise made the Huskies sleepy in the second, allowing the Sun Devils to creep within 11. But a firm chewing by coach Lorenzo Romar restored some energy and Washington prevailed 77-69 to hold on to a half-share of first in the Pac-12 Conference.
With the trap game aside in the desert pairing, the Huskies can (18-8, 11-3) look forward to a stout matchup at noon Saturday in the home finale against Arizona (10-4, 19-8), which beat Washington State 76-72 in Pullman. Cal beat Oregon 86-83 to keep pace with the Huskies.
“It’s definitely our funnest game,” said C.J. Wilcox of the pending rivalry with the Wildcats. “It’s always intense and always down to the wire.”
The Huskies couldn’t be accused Thursday of looking ahead to UA, romping to a big early lead. After a couple of poor shooting games, Washington shot 61 percent in the first half to all but decide the issue with a 44-26 lead at halftime. Defensive stops led to fast breaks and easy shots. The 77 points were the post ASU has surrendered this season.
The Huskies clearly lost focus in the second half, making wild passes and multiple turnovers as a 24-point lead dwindled to 11 and Romar fumed along the sidelines.
“The way we played the first half, we could have played with anyone on our schedule this year,” said Romar. “In the second half, we didn’t handle success very well. It would be great to be leaving this game on a high, playing a full 40 minutes. But we didn’t. We have to put together two halves against Arizona.”
Romar was much happier to look at the first half.
“We attacked their zone as well as we’ve ever attacked it,” Romar said, recalling that the Huskies were just 1-for-8 on three-pointers against ASU in the first meeting, a 60-54 UW win. This time, they were 8 for 25. “We moved bodies, we were getting ball reversed. We went inside as well as outside and did a good job defending them.”
Romar was eager for the shown against Arizona.
“If (Saturday) is anything like last three (against the Wildcats) put your seat belt on,” he said. “I don’t know if I can take that. We have a lot of respect for Arizona. When we get out on the floor against them, we compete like crazy.”