Conference-leading Wildcats prepared for challenging Oregon trip
Riding a two game win streak and escaping Tempe for its latest win, the Arizona Wildcats (21-6, 11-3) are trying to finish the season on top of the Pac-12 standings.
Standing in the way of the Wildcats’ goal this week are two teams in Oregon.
Even though both teams, Oregon State (13-13, 5-9) and Oregon (17-10, 7-7), are in the bottom half of the conference standings and are on a two-game losing streak, Arizona is prepared for close games just like the earlier matchups this season.
As the Wildcats look to end the regular season strong as the Pac-12 regular season champs, both Oregon teams will be looking to upset the No. 14 ranked conference giant.
What: Arizona (21-6, 11-3) at Oregon State (13-13, 5-9)
Arizona at Oregon (17-10, 7-7)
When: Thursday, February 22 at 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, February 24 at 9:15 p.m.
Storylines to follow
Can anyone stop the Wildcats’ big men?
Deandre Ayton is leading the Pac-12 in scoring with 19.7 points per a game while also leading the conference in rebounding as well.
“(Ayton) has really surpassed my expectations,” Sean Miller said Monday. “We knew he was a talented player but you don’t know guys until they’re with you every day.”
Ayton is coming off an incredible game against in-state rival ASU where he scored 25 points and grabbed 16 total rebounds while only missing four field goals the whole game.
“He’s just been very consistent,” Miller said. “That’s not easy to do for a freshman, I don’t care how talented you are or how physically imposing you are.”
While Ayton takes the limelight, senior teammate Dusan Ristic also helps the team down low. Ristic is shooting 58 percent, scoring 11.9 points a game and grabbing 7.1 rebounds a game.
“Shot percentage this far in the season doesn’t lie and if you look at Dusan and Deandre’s field goal percentage and you add that up, that’s our best bet right now offensively.”
Will the northwestern shot blockers lock up the paint?
While Arizona lives in the paint with their dominant big men, Oregon and Oregon State have the top two shot blockers in the Pac-12.
In the Wildcats’ first matchup of the weekend against Oregon State Thursday, Drew Eubanks will look to swat away plenty of Arizona’s shots.
“I think Drew Eubanks is one of the more underrated players in our conference,” Miller said. “He’s very good. He’s a great shot blocker.”
Eubanks is averaging 2.0 blocks a game and has the second-most blocks in the Pac-12. The 6-foot-10 forward has also been getting it done on the other end as well, where he is scoring 12.9 points a game on 62 percent shooting.
“(Eubanks) is rugged,” Miller said. “He does it on defense and offense.”
In the next game on Saturday, the team will play another good rim protector in Kenny Wooten. Wooten is averaging 2.7 blocks a game and leading the Pac-12 in blocks.
Will guard play get to the Wildcats?
Arizona will be seeing a lot of talented guards during their time on this road trip.
At Oregon State, the Wildcats will be facing off against guard Stephen Thompson Jr. (16 points per game).
Thompson’s ability to score on the perimeter combined with leading scorer Tres Tinkle (18.1 ppg) at forward makes the Beavers a tough matchup for any school.
“(Tinkle and Thompson) are two as good of scores that we have faced,” Miller said.
Thompson is also averaging 1.9 steals a game, which is the second most among Pac-12 players.
“(Oregon State) is a very physical team that takes a lot of pride in their defense,” Miller said.
Just a few days later, Arizona will then need to play the Ducks, who have Payton Pritchard. Oregon’s point guard is averaging 4.9 assists a game while his backcourt partner Troy Brown racks up 1.6 steals a game.
Wildcat guards like Allonzo Trier will play a large role in trying to limit the guards in this week’s games.
Are the Oregon teams better than their records?
Even though both teams don’t have a frightening record, Miller doesn’t seem convinced that the Wildcats will leave the state in a breeze.
Out of the Beavers 13 losses, 12 of those losses have been less than by 10 points.
“I think their level of play is really at a high level right now,” Miller said. “Especially considering maybe their starting point.”
The Ducks, on the other end, have scored 100 or more points three times this season.
Oregon, who was eliminated in the Final Four last season, has also had some very close losses. This year the Ducks had nine of their ten losses be by 10 or less points.
“Oregon has a tradition of winning under Dana Altman as well,” Miller said. “Those guys are gonna fight all the way till the end.”
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