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Originally published Saturday, February 3, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Salvage operations: Both Huskies, Arizona need a victory to right the ship

To the victor goes the spoils? Maybe that should be revised to the victor getting that which is least spoiled when Washington and Arizona...

Seattle Times staff reporter

TUCSON, Ariz. — To the victor goes the spoils?

Maybe that should be revised to the victor getting that which is least spoiled when Washington and Arizona meet at 10:30 a.m. today at McKale Center.

Both teams are trying to salvage men's basketball seasons that have gone surprisingly awry.

Instead of fighting for the Pac-10 championship, as many expected they would, they are battling today for a shot at sixth place. Arizona has fallen to 5-5 in conference and UW is 4-6.

"It's different circumstances than a lot of people would have anticipated," said Washington center Spencer Hawes.

Sixth place, at least, seems like light at the end of the tunnel for the Huskies after their 1-6 start in the Pac-10.

"I don't think sixth place has ever sounded so sweet to me," said sophomore forward Jon Brockman, pointing out that finishing sixth means avoiding having to play the first night of the Pac-10 tournament.

To Arizona, however, it's a note more sour than anything William Hung has ever sang.

One Tucson newspaper Friday posited that "maybe now is the time to panic" after Arizona lost at home to Washington State on Thursday night. It not only was WSU's first sweep of the Wildcats since 1983, but also Arizona's sixth defeat in its past eight games, with the victories against bottom-feeders Oregon State and Arizona State. Arizona hasn't lost six of eight since the 1983-84 season, Lute Olson's first in Tucson.

"We need a win," Arizona guard Jawann McClellan said after the WSU defeat. "That's something I never thought I would say here. We have to come out Saturday and get a win."

The Huskies, however, understandably wonder what all the fuss is about. When they last saw Arizona, the Wildcats looked like one of the best teams in the country, shooting 65.3 percent in a 96-87 victory over the Huskies at Edmundson Pavilion on Jan. 4.

"The day that you count Arizona for dead is when you die," said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. "Because Arizona is not dead at all. They are going to recover."

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Arizona slayed the Huskies in January by hitting 11 of 20 three-pointers as UW stubbornly stayed in a 2-3 zone defense that enabled the Wildcats to fire away.

In retrospect, it seems as if Romar was on to something with that defense, but he simply picked the wrong night.

Since then, Arizona is shooting just 23 percent from three-point range, the biggest reason for its slump. Some wonder if playing all of Arizona's top five players more than 31 minutes a game is taking a toll. McClellan, who was 6 of 9 on three-pointers against UW, missed his next 16 and is 6 of 30 since that game.

"They're all wide-open looks," McClellan said after the WSU game. "I can't tell you why we're not hitting shots. We hit them in practice."

Also slumping is Marcus Williams, a sophomore from Seattle's Roosevelt High School. He leads Arizona in scoring amid rumblings he's pressing to impress NBA scouts, with it considered virtually certain he will turn pro after this season.

Olson has tweaked the rotation, inserting 6-foot-9 freshman Jordan Hill as a starting forward, having decided the Wildcats play better with a bigger lineup.

But otherwise, Olson has done little to indicate any real concern. As he met with media members Friday, he insisted his faith in his team hasn't wavered and compared it to the fabled 1997 squad, which finished fifth in the Pac-10 but then won the national title.

"I feel very confident in this group," Olson said. "They just need to get everything working."

Romar said he told his team when it was 1-6 that if it could just win a few, the rest of the conference would "come back to us."

That has begun to happen as UW has won its last three.

Today could mark the Huskies as truly back.

"This is a big game," Romar said. "If we could be successful, now you are in a position to make a real run at an at-large bid."

Notes

• Though Hawes is as healthy as he has been in more than a month and played 30 minutes at Arizona State on Thursday night, Artem Wallace will still start at center.

• Williams is on the road to recovery from a sprained ankle suffered last week, but came off the bench against WSU on Thursday and might again today. Olson said it's possible Williams could start and McClellan come off the bench with Hill remaining a starter.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

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