Arizona gets a chance at payback this week when the Oregon schools visit McKale Center
Arizona enters this week in the thick of the conference race. The Wildcats are one of four teams tied in the loss column at the top of the Pac-12 regular season standings. Among the four include the Oregon Ducks, a team Arizona hosts Saturday night in a prime time, ESPN televised game. However, before the Wildcats can even think about the Ducks, they first have to get passed a pesky Oregon State team that gave them all sorts of fits in Corvallis.
Arizona (18-7, 8-4 Pac-12) re-entered the national rankings this week after an impressive sweep of California and Stanford in the Bay Area. The wins pushed Arizona’s winning streak on the road to four games. Ironically, the Wildcats will be looking to not only avenge earlier losses to the Beavers and Ducks, they’ll also be looking to get back to their winning ways at home following an insufferable, almost impossible to forget loss to UCLA at McKale Center on February 8 when the Wildcats shot an historic, record low 25.4 percent from the field.
The UCLA loss was much like the team’s January setback to Oregon State. Fresh off the heels of a tough, 74-73 overtime loss to the Ducks in Eugene, Arizona entered Corvallis wounded and it showed. After a competitive first half where the schools entered the locker tied at 31-31, the Beavers raced passed the Wildcats and outscored Arizona 51-34 after the break. Arizona made just 34.5 percent of its shot attempts in the second half, while the Beavers seemed to execute every offensive possession to perfection in the game’s final 12 minutes.
Thursday, Arizona will need to be better on both ends of the floor to knock off OSU.
The Beavers run their ball handlers off endless screens at the top of the key and use a variety of weak side screening to free their big men on the low block. Defensively, Arizona needs to play with the same level of toughness that allowed them to defeat California and Stanford on the road despite their own offensive struggles.
Although Arizona showed signs of better offensive efficiency in its 68-52 win at California (48% FG; 10 turnovers; Dylan Smith 5/7 FG), the teams shot just 37 percent in its 69-60 win over Stanford, that included a 3-for-21 effort from behind the arc and an unusually high 16 turnovers.
While Zeke Nnaji continues to be a steady scoring and rebounding force, other Wildcats seem to be taking turns having shooting slumps. Notably, standout freshmen Nico Mannion is going through his own slump right now following a 3-for-9 shooting effort at California and a 2-for-10 night at Stanford. Those two performances come on the heels of Mannion’s 2-for-14 shooting in a 65-52 loss to UCLA.
The step-back 3-Pointers Mannion has been hitting all season have all but disappeared. The beautiful running floaters from pretty much anywhere on the court have been, at best, limited in recent games. However, few doubt Mannion will soon return to form and there’s no better time than the present.
Arizona will play four of its final six regular season games at home.
After hosting the Oregon schools this week, the team travels to USC and UCLA next week. They close out the season at home against the Washington schools.
Arizona has the highest NET ranking of any Pac-12 school. The Wildcats are currently No. 8 in the NCAA’s NET rankings. OSU is No. 72, while Oregon is ranked No. 20.
A home sweep will keep the Wildcats heavily in the mix for a regular season title, but none of these final games will be easy. The Wildcats are tied with Colorado, Oregon and Arizona State with four conference losses apiece. Next week’s opponents USC and UCLA each have five conference losses. In short, three of Arizona’s next four opponents are all still vying for a conference title.