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Originally published Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 10:05 PM

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Washington must stop Derrick Williams to beat Arizona

Arizona sophomore Derrick Williams and Washington junior Isaiah Thomas meet Thursday in Seattle, but don't expect any one-on-one between the two.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

Arizona @ UW, 7:30 p.m., FSN

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Finally, a big game — and a big-time opposing player — at Edmundson Pavilion.

After steamrolling over a slew of nonconference cream puffs and trouncing a pair of Pac-10 patsies, No. 20 Washington hosts Arizona at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The game figures to draw national attention to the Pacific Northwest.

"It's going to be crazy man," junior guard Isaiah Thomas said. "I picture this game being like the one when Nate Robinson got the alley-oop against Arizona. I remember back then it was standing-room only.

"It's going to be fun. I can't wait. It's a big game. We haven't really had a huge game like this at home this year. I'm waiting for what the fans got. Waiting for what we're going to bring out. It should be a good one."

Hanging in the balance of the most-anticipated home game of the season is first place in the Pac-10. No. 20 Washington (13-4, 5-1 Pac-10) leads the conference. Arizona (15-3, 4-1), which entered the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll Monday at No. 25, is second.

The game may also go a long way in deciding who wins the Pac-10 Player of the Year award. With one-third of the conference season in the books, Thomas, Arizona sophomore Derrick Williams and Washington State junior Klay Thompson have emerged as the leading candidates.

Thomas, UW's 5-foot-9 co-captain, isn't planning on turning the game into a one-on-one matchup with Williams, who is 6-8 and 240 pounds.

"He definitely doesn't want to guard me and I don't want to guard him," Thomas said. "It's not going to be between me and him. It's going to be the Huskies against the Wildcats."

Some might argue it's going to be Washington vs. Williams, who has carried Arizona on his broad shoulders.

He averages 19.7 points, which is 11 points more than the next highest Wildcat, and has led Arizona in scoring in 14 of 18 games. He averages 7.3 rebounds and has been the team's top rebounder 10 times.

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said Williams is the toughest player to defend since former Arizona State star Ike Diogu was Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2005.

"He's shooting 70 percent from the three-point stripe," Romar said of Williams. "He can put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket. He's very, very good at drawing fouls. We know how athletic he is — period. But around the rim he's so explosive. He's just a tough cover and they go to him quite a bit."

Williams, who won the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award, has been named the conference's Player of the Week twice this season. He's also been selected to the John R. Wooden Award midseason top 30 list.

Williams, who can shoot with either hand, has converted 134 of 174 free throws. He has attempted 74 more foul shots than the next highest Pac-10 player.

Because he shoots 77.0 percent at the line and 70.8 percent (17 of 24) on three-pointers, Williams leads the nation in scoring efficiency. He averages 2.29 points per field goal attempt.

"You can't really shut down one player like him or completely take him out of the whole game," said junior forward Darnell Gant. "But you can take some things away. Limit his touches on the block. Limit his touches on the elbow. If a shot goes up, box him out and try to keep him off the boards as best you can."

Thomas and Romar spent time with Williams in November at Pac-10 Media Day, and the UW coach walked away believing the Arizona forward had grown an inch or two since his freshman year.

Oregon State coach Craig Robinson had a similar feeling after the Beavers handed the Wildcats their only Pac-10 defeat, a 76-75 defeat three weeks ago.

"He is much taller than last year," Robinson insisted. "He is much closer to 6-9 than 6-7."

Arizona coach Sean Miller is adamant Williams hasn't grown. He said the illusion is created by Williams' improved conditioning.

"He's added that strength that you want to see freshmen who become sophomores add," Miller said. "And it's that strength and that conditioning element that probably makes him play bigger than a year ago because he's certainly done that."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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