TUCSON, ARIZ. - Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, facing a hole in his starting lineup just before the season's biggest game, decided to go with experience.
Senior guard Venoy Overton will return to the starting lineup today in place of injured Scott Suggs when the Huskies visit No. 12 Arizona for a nationally televised game that is key to Washington’s chances of winning the Pacific-10 Conference regular-season title.
“We’re on the road. Experience. He’s been in this situation before,” Romar said, listing factors in his decision. “And he’s playing well.”
Overton started three games in January immediately after guard Abdul Gaddy was lost to a knee injury. Then Suggs, a junior guard, stepped in for nine games.
But Suggs suffered a strain of his medial collateral ligament (MCL) in Thursday night’s victory at Arizona State. The injury is likely to sideline him for about two weeks.
“I don’t even know how it happened,” Suggs said after the Huskies practiced Friday at Arizona’s McKale Center. “ When I tried to jump, somebody fell on my leg.”
With Suggs out, Romar selected Overton over freshmen C.J. Wilcox or Terrence Ross.
The 6-foot-6 Suggs had averaged 7.3 points, two rebounds and 1.1 assists a game. The 6-0 Overton averages 5.7 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
“In this game, we don’t take a step back,” Romar said. “In some ways it might even make us better. If it was a different game, different scenario, we might go with somebody else. ”
Overton said he is happy about Romar’s decision to return him to the starting lineup in just the kind of environment he enjoys.
“This is one of the biggest games of the season,” he said. “Ranked team. We’re trying to get to the top of the Pac-10. We’re playing for the NCAA tournament, (to) get some good key wins on our résumé. No better feeling. ESPN game. Sold out. Big event for them. We’re trying to ruin their moment.”
Arizona enters with a one-game lead over UCLA and a 11/2-game edge over third-place Washington in the Pac-10 standings. Three conference games remain for UW, so the outcome against Arizona can mean either a huge step forward (win) or backward (loss) in the standings.
Romar and Arizona coach Sean Miller have said a regular-season title is less important than their teams playing to their potential.
However, each acknowledged that this game will have a special feeling.
“I know in both of our cases every game counts the same because we’re both trying to accomplish the same thing,” Miller said Friday. “ I think with where both teams are right now and this game being so late in the year, I think it’s meaningful in both cases. We have Pac-10 championship ramifications at stake here.”
And if the coaches feel the buzz, it’s safe to say their players do, too.
“ESPN, bright lights, white out; this is what you play for,” UW guard Isaiah Thomas said. “I’m ready for it. I can’t wait.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports
WASHINGTON (18-7 OVERALL, 10-4 PACIFIC-10 CONFERENCE) AT NO. 12 ARIZONA (22-4, 11-2)
3 p.m., McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
TV: ESPN. Radio: 950-AM
Series: Arizona leads 43-25 overall, 26-6 in Tucson. Washington won the Jan. 20 meeting in Seattle, 85-68. The Wildcats have won the past four matches at McKale by an average of 17.8 points. Since 2003-04 there have been two series sweeps: UW in 2004 and Arizona in 2007.
Statistical leaders: For UW – Isaiah Thomas, 16.8 ppg and 5.7 apg; Matthew Bryan-Amaning, 8 rpg. For UA – Derrick Williams, 19.5 ppg and 8 rpg; Kyle Fogg, 2.9 apg.
Scouting report: Arizona is 11/2 games ahead of third-place Washington in the Pac-10 standings. The Wildcats are on a seven-game winning streak and have won 14 straight at home. Their last loss was at UW. The Huskies have won three in a row. UW is 0-2 against ranked teams and 1-3 when appearing on ESPN networks. These teams rank 1-2 in the conference in scoring, scoring margin, field-goal percentage, 3-point field-goal percentage, 3-point field-goal percentage defense, rebounding margin and 3-point field goals made. Individually, Thomas and Williams are probably the top contenders for the Pac-10 player of the year award. UW senior Venoy Overton will make his fourth start of the season. He replaces Scott Suggs, who suffered a knee injury Thursday at Arizona State. The game is sold out. Arizona is asking fans to wear white to the arena.
Next: 7 p.m. Tuesday, at Seattle University, KeyArena; FSN.
Don Ruiz, staff writer