Pac-12 cat fight pits Arizona against Washington State

The eighth-ranked Arizona Wildcats continue their quest for the Pac-12 Conference crown, and their next stop has them taking on the Washington State Cougars at Friel Court on Saturday night.

Arizona paid a visit to the other Pac-12 school from the Evergreen State on Thursday night, surviving a nip-and-tuck battle at Washington, 57-53. As a result, the Wildcats improved to 18-2 overall and 6-2 in conference, keeping them tied with Arizona State (17-4, 6-2), and just one game off the pace set by first-place Oregon (18-3, 7-1). UA has won its last three games outside of Tucson to improve to 5-1 in true road games, and 8-1 all told when you factor in its 3-0 mark in neutral-site affairs.

Washington State has had an up-and-down season, currently sitting just a game over .500 at 11-10. Its performance against conference foes hasn't been good, logging just a 2-6 league ledger -- the two wins over Utah and Oregon State representing the team's only here in 2013. The Cougars were in action on Thursday night as well, and they dropped a 63-59 decision to visiting Arizona State to fall to 8-4 in Pullman. Couple that with a 68-61 loss to visiting Colorado on Jan. 23, and they have now dropped two in a row on their home court.

Arizona owns a commanding 55-16 lead in the all-time series with Washington State, which includes victories in a staggering 48 of the last 54 meetings. The Wildcats will entertain the Cougars on Feb. 23 to close out the season series.

With a scoring average of 74.6 ppg and a typical yield of 61.5 ppg, Arizona has the No. 1 scoring margin in the Pac-12 (+13). The team boasts three double-digit scorers in Mark Lyons (14.7 ppg, 3.0 apg), Nick Johnson (13.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.7 apg) and Solomon Hill (13.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.7 apg), and uses a 36 percent effort from 3-point range coupled with +8.2 rebounding margin to keep its opponents at bay. Foes are shooting less than 40 percent from the field against the Wildcats, who held Washington to just 36.8 percent in Thursday night's narrow victory. They were even stronger in defending the long-range shot, as the Huskies made good on only 1-of-12 3-point attempts. Johnson scored a game-high 15 points to pace four players in double figures for UA, the team shooting just 35.1 percent from the floor and missing 15 of its 18 3-point tries along the way. Both teams committed 17 turnovers, although the 'Cats scored 20 points and the Huskies just 10 off those miscues.

Washington State is anything but an offensive force this season, netting 63.4 ppg, but the team has played exceptionally well at the defensive end in limiting the opposition to a league-low 59.6 ppg. Despite the lack of offensive punch, WSU does boast of having one of the league's top scorers in senior forward Brock Motum (18.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg). Mike Ladd (11.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is the only other Cougar currently averaging double digits in the scoring column, and he is coming off a 14-point performance in the recent loss to Arizona State. Royce Woolridge led Washington State in that game with 16 points, and Motum logged a double-double consisting of 11 points and as many rebounds. Dexter Kernich-Drew came off the bench to contribute 10 points. The Cougars hit 9-of-23 3-point tries, but shot just 39.6 percent overall, while the Sun Devils nailed 11 treys, and committed only four turnovers.