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Originally published Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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UW Men's Basketball | Wildcats' power hasn't dwindled

The Washington Huskies will see a different Arizona team here today, one without Lute Olson roaming the Wildcats sideline. The Hall of Fame...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Today

Washington @ Arizona, noon, FSN.

TUCSON, Ariz. — The Washington Huskies will see a different Arizona team here today, one without Lute Olson roaming the Wildcats sideline.

The Hall of Fame coach, who has been at Arizona since the 1983-84 season, has taken a leave of absence for personal reasons. The interim coach is Kevin O'Neill.

Not that the Huskies think that will make their task any easier when tipoff comes today at noon.

"Their coach is gone, but we know they still have a lot of talent," said freshman guard Venoy Overton.

The Huskies hope they have a changeup in store for the Wildcats, as well.

Last time they were here, Feb. 3, they were defeated 84-54, UW's worst loss since the 2002-03 season, Lorenzo Romar's first.

"They just embarrassed us," said guard Ryan Appleby. "I think that was the worst loss I've had since I've been here. A bad feeling. Probably one of the worst feelings I've ever had after a game. So it's definitely in the back of my mind that it happened."

As they were then, the Huskies are coming off a Thursday win at Arizona State and face a Saturday afternoon game in Tucson.

Last season, that Arizona State game was UW's only road win, ending worries of not getting one. That might have been part of the problem, said UW forward Jon Brockman.

"It was kind of like, 'We got one road win. We got that out of the way,' " he said. "This year is just a different attitude. We don't have that feeling at all, and we are going to get more road wins."

Thursday's 72-61 win at Arizona State was UW's second road win of the season and maybe its biggest, putting the Huskies at 12-7 overall and 3-3 in Pac-10.

What Romar liked most about it was the way it was accomplished. The Huskies shot just 38 percent but won by holding ASU to 32 percent, including 29 percent in the first half.

"We have had a renewed commitment to doing the right things on both ends of the floor," Romar said Friday, adding that commitment may never have been greater than against ASU. "I thought we were really dialed in last night after the first few minutes."

Arizona (13-6, 3-3) is unranked for a game against the Huskies for the first time since 1988. But after seeing Arizona take apart No. 6 Washington State 76-64 Thursday night, Romar isn't buying talk that the Wildcats are down. He points out that star freshman guard Jerryd Bayless was sidelined for three of Arizona's losses.

"I hear people say Arizona is in transition, which is obvious," Romar said of O'Neill taking over for Olson. "But Arizona is not down. If Jerryd Bayless is in every game, they may be on top of the league."

Bayless is healthy now, scoring a game-high 23 against the Cougars in 38 minutes. He was one of five Arizona players to play 30 or more minutes in that game, something the Huskies may try to exploit today.

But extended minutes may not wear down Arizona starters as much as in the past. The Wildcats are more deliberate under O'Neill, a former head coach at Northwestern, Marquette, Tennessee and the NBA's Toronto Raptors. They have a greater defensive emphasis — almost exclusively man-to-man — and run more set plays.

"They are capable of scoring 90 points, like in the past, but they are not playing as wide open as they have in the past," Romar said. "But I know they can do that. And defensively, they have really, really honed it in that way."

O'Neill, who has been named as the eventual successor to Olson, said the key to his team is Bayless (averaging 19.5 points) and sophomore forward Chase Budinger (17.3).

"They shoot well, we win," O'Neill said. "They don't shoot well, we lose."

Last year against the Huskies, it didn't matter who did the shooting. Five Wildcats scored in double figures and the team hit 57 percent overall.

But the Huskies, who feel they are hitting their stride after winning three in a row, are forecasting a different outcome.

"We're a lot better equipped to handle it this year," said sophomore forward Quincy Pondexter. "We're a better focused team, a lot better defensively. That outcome most likely won't happen again."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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