Statistics can basically be thrown out the window for Saturday’s game between No. 24 Arizona and No. 14 Oregon. The Ducks have won four straight against the Wildcats and seven of the last nine meetings in the series, including early January’s 74-73 overtime win in Eugene.
For Arizona (19-7, 9-4 Pac-12), a win over Oregon is long overdue. For Oregon (20-7, 9-5 Pac-12) a win is required to remain in the conference regular season race after falling at Arizona State on Thursday.
There are some who think the Sun Devils did their rival Wildcats no favors in upsetting Oregon. However, with so much on the line, even a desperate Ducks squad shouldn’t make a difference to an Arizona team that is at home and also needs a win to remain atop the league standings.
The Wildcats raced away from Oregon State on Thursday, but still showed some signs of weakness that could end up hurting them against Oregon. While Arizona played menacing defense and took full advantage of 21 Beavers turnovers, they also looked lackadaisical, at times, in securing defensive rebounds and, most notably, identifying where OSU’s sharp shooters were on the court during transition. So much so that Sean Miller, who is seeking his thirteenth 20-win season in 16 years as a head coach, was demonstrably upset with his club in not only calling a timeout after a defensive breakdown, but slamming his clipboard on the ground as the team entered its huddle.
Miller knows that at this point in the season, every possession matters, saying as much during this week’s press conference. Paraphrasing Miller, he addressed how the same mental mistakes made against Oregon State won’t fly against a team of Oregon's caliber.
Keys to Victory
Arizona was not intimidated when they played the Ducks on the road earlier this season. It’s safe to say the Ducks will not be intimidated by Arizona or the McKale Center crowd this weekend. To win, Arizona needs to be the more aggressive team. The Ducks are notorious for making a mess of things and then thriving off of all the chaos they create. They feature a dynamic, uber athletic team, as does Arizona, that plays an aggressive, ball hawking, and pass lane denying defense. They thrive in transition scoring, yet have no problem slowing down the offense and allowing Peyton Pritchard to create for himself or his teammates off the dribble. In order to succeed, Arizona needs to take the attack to the “Quack Attack”. It’s like when a team is facing an opponent that likes to full court press. The best way to beat that defense is to play on your toes, not your heels, go straight at the defense, break it down and flip the script by turning a double team trap into a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 fast break.
Against Oregon, Arizona simply cannot afford to have its offense relegated to the perimeter. While outside makes are great, the Wildcats need to pound the paint, use the dribble to knife through the defense, and create, create, create scoring opportunities for teammates. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.
Defensively, Arizona needs to deny the backdoor cuts (something they did very well against Oregon State), while also sticking with shooters running out to the 3-Point line (something they did not do very well against the Beavers). When the shot goes up, they need to box out the shooter, not retreat into the paint. On multiple occasions against OSU on Thursday, the player who shot the ball for the Beavers also chased down the long rebound. Simply put, the young Wildcats need to show some maturity on the defensive glass and actually put a body on someone. The team, as a whole, has shown some improvement in this area, but, at times, they also revert to simply relying on their athleticism and jumping for the rebound.
On the same note, no lead will be too big for either team on Saturday. The team that can play better longer will win. As simplistic as that sounds, a 40-minute effort of effective basketball will win. A 35-minute effort of effective basketball might not be enough.
Where things really get interesting is everything written about Arizona’s keys to victory also apply to the Ducks. Oregon is a very good basketball team, but, like Arizona, they have looked average on multiple occasions this season. One would assume the Ducks will play much better on Saturday than they did Thursday in Tempe. If they don’t show improvement, it could be a fun night of basketball for Wildcat fans. The same goes for Arizona. If they don’t show up and show out, the Ducks will beat the Wildcats for a fifth straight time.
Fans should expect an up tempo game, which doesn’t necessarily mean a high scoring game. Each team features a head coach that values defense, and that will be the point of emphasis for both clubs as each will try and keep the other out of transition. If that happens, then all of the little, yet wildly important things such as free throw attempts and makes, points in the paint, turnovers, points off of turnovers, and points off the bench will likely decide the winner.
Tip time is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on ESPN.