No. 11 Arizona carries its highest ranking in nearly four years into its Pac-12 opener Thursday night when the Wildcats take on the Washington Huskies in Tucson, Ariz.
The Wildcats (6-0) have their best ranking in the AP poll since Jan. 29, 2018, when they were No. 9. They began this season unranked but have been impressive on both ends of the court under first-year coach Tommy Lloyd.
"We have a great group of guys," Lloyd said. "A number of our players are putting effort first, and that's a great step. When you put effort first and you follow it with intelligence and unselfishness, that's a heck of a combination. And we're getting there."
Washington (4-4) enters on a two-game skid, having lost to Nevada in Sioux Falls, S.D., and then falling at home to Winthrop on Saturday. The Huskies were picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 in a preseason media poll.
"We're still a work in progress," coach Mike Hopkins said. "We're trying to figure out our lineups. Our small lineup does a really good job, but then sometimes we're vulnerable to allowing offensive rebounds and not getting defensive rebounds.
"We're such a deep team, we're going to figure it out. And once we figure it out, we're going to be able to get rolling."
The Huskies will bring a familiar face into McKale Center; leading scorer Terrell Brown Jr. played last season at Arizona after transferring from Seattle University.
Brown, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week, averages 21.9 points a game, to go along with a team-best 4.0 assists. He averaged 7.3 points for Arizona last season.
He's not getting much help from teammates. While Brown is shooting 47.1%, the rest of the team is making just 36.4%.
Arizona's offense, meanwhile, has been a thing of beauty, with Lloyd letting the Wildcats play free and fast in ways that former coach Sean Miller didn't prefer. The Wildcats -- who have a win over then-No. 4 Michigan -- love to push the pace and share the ball, much as at Gonzaga, where Lloyd spent two decades as Mark Few's assistant.
They are third in the nation in scoring (91.5 points a game), while leading college basketball in assists (23.5 per game) and scoring margin (plus-33.8).
The Wildcats have a talent and size advantage down low, and the numbers say they will dominate Washington on the glass. They have a rebounding margin of plus-12.7 per game, which is one reason opponents are shooting just 32.5 percent. Washington is at minus-6.9 per game on the boards.
Arizona's top two scorers are post players. Power forward Azuolas Tubelis is shooting 62.7 percent and averaging 16.5 points. Center Christian Koloko is at 16.2 points per game while shooting 69.2 percent and grabbing a team-high 7.5 rebounds.
They also lead the Wildcats in free throw attempts, which speaks to how much trouble opponents have matching up inside.
"I think we have to try to get that advantage every single night," Lloyd said. "It's how we play and move the ball and try to isolate those guys in there. We want to put stress on the defense constantly."
The teams have one common opponent. Arizona defeated Northern Arizona 81-52, while Washington beat the Lumberjacks 73-62.
--Field Level Media