Huskies navigate troublesome path through Pac-12 tournament

No. 9 seed UW faces No. 8 Utah in opener with winner facing top-ranked Arizona in second round

christian.caple@thenewstribune.comMarch 12, 2014 

Utah’s Delon Wright, who made the All-Pac-12 Conference’s first team, has played tough against the Huskies. The 6-foot-5 guard and third-best shooter in the conference went 17-for-26 (65.4 percent) from the field in two games against UW this season.

RICK BOWMER/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

LAS VEGAS — A proposition like the one the Washington Huskies will face at the Pac-12 Conference tournament requires a cliché mentality.

They have to win four games in four days to avoid a third consecutive season without an NCAA tournament appearance, and so UW has no choice but to ... wait for it ... take it one game at a time, beginning with Wednesday’s opening-round matchup with No. 8-seed Utah at the MGM Grand Garden Arena (noon, Pac-12 Network).

And while fifth-year senior guard C.J. Wilcox surely wouldn’t look past the Utes (20-10, 9-9), who beat the Huskies the last time these teams played, he is at least cognizant of the path that lies ahead if UW does win on Wednesday.

The winner gets No. 1-seed Arizona in the second round on Thursday.

Wilcox at least likes their chances of earning the right to face the Wildcats.

“I like matching up against Utah,” Wilcox said Monday, before the Huskies boarded an early-morning Tuesday flight. “I feel like we can definitely get that one done. Part of me wants to play Arizona last, but I think getting (the Wildcats) on their first day in Vegas could be to our advantage because we’d have already played a game and gotten in a rhythm.

“I’m not worried about it. We’re capable of playing with any team and playing with all the teams we’re playing against. I’m not really worried about who we’re playing.”

The Huskies (17-14, 9-9 Pac-12) beat the Utes at home, 59-57, on Jan. 8 despite 6-foot-5 Utah guard Delon Wright taking over — via dribble penetration, mostly — and scoring 27 points to go with 11 rebounds.

Wright, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, was a problem for the Huskies again in Salt Lake City, where UW lost, 78-69, on

Feb. 6. Washington trailed that game by one point at halftime but allowed Utah to score 47 points in the second half to salvage a split of the season series. Wright scored 19 points, grabbed five rebounds, had four assists and three steals.

He made 17 of his 26 field goal attempts against the Huskies this season (65.4 percent) — not surprising because Wright ranks third in the Pac-12 with a 58.4 field goal percentage, which is particularly high for a guard. He’s also a defensive pest, ranking second in the conference in steals per game with 2.57.

“You’re never safe with the basketball with (Wright) around,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “He has such quick hands, good length, such anticipation. He just gets his hand on a lot of balls. And then offensively, he doesn’t shoot a lot outside, but yet he shoots a high field-goal percentage. He’s constantly putting the pressure on you.

“He’s as valuable to his team, as valuable as anybody in the league, to me. He kind of does it all.”

Washington’s goal of winning four games this week is not unprecedented; Colorado did it as the No. 6 seed in 2012. But the Buffaloes didn’t have to play the No. 3 team in the country in the second round.

First things first, though.

“We have to come out, starting Wednesday, with just a great focus,” Romar said. “A great focus and a great togetherness. If we can do those things, I think other things will take care of themselves. But we can’t talk about how many points we have to score, we have to outrebound this team — we have to play with focus and a together attitude, and we’ll be OK.”

WILLIAMS-GOSS COMES HOME

Nigel Williams-Goss grew up in Happy Valley, Ore., outside of Portland, but moved with his family to the Las Vegas area prior to starting ninth grade to play for basketball powerhouse Findlay Prep in nearby Henderson.

The freshman said he watched most of the Pac-12 tournament last year at the MGM Grand, and though he hadn’t been to any of the prior tournaments at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, he could tell the atmosphere was different from what he’d seen on television in years past.

“I love it. I thought it was a great move to switch it to the MGM,” Williams-Goss said. “Obviously I had never been to the Staples Center, but just from watching it on TV it looked empty a lot of the games besides the championship game. But the MGM is a little bit smaller … the atmosphere is crazy and it’s a really nice venue.”

The team will visit Williams-Goss’ house for dinner one night, he said.

christian.caple@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @ChristianCaple

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