Arizona looks to even season series with Oregon State when the Beavers visit on Thursday
All of the statistical measurements that determine whether a team is good or not favor Arizona. The Wildcats currently have the highest Net Ranking of any Pac-12 team at No. 8 in the country. Arizona has the fifth most difficult schedule in the nation. They also boast a KenPom Ranking of No. 13. Now, all Arizona needs is more victories to justify the computer rankings and pass the proverbial eye test during a critical stretch of the season where ‘everyone’ is finally paying attention to ‘everything’.
The Wildcats (18-7, 8-4 Pac-12) are riding a two game winning streak thanks to its second consecutive conference road sweep of the season. After dispatching California and Stanford away from home, Arizona returns to McKale Center for a pivotal two-game home stand against the Oregon schools. First up is Oregon State.
The Beavers (15-10, 5-8 Pac-12) enter Thursday’s tip in Tucson on the heels of a 69-47 home loss to Colorado. The team is 2-4 away from home in league play and 3-5, overall, on the road this season. Tres Tinkle is one of the most prolific scorers in the Pac-12 this year, averaging 18.3 points per game. The son of Head Coach Wayne Tinkle is also averaging 7.1 rebounds per game, while shooting 35.3 percent from deep and 80.0 percent from the free throw line. Ethan Thompson, another savvy veteran, is averaging 15.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while dishing out 106 assists on the season. Kylor Kelley is the only other Beaver averaging in double figures at 11.1 points per game.
OSU routed Arizona 82-65 on January 12 in Corvallis by outscoring the Wildcats by 17 points in the final 12 minutes of regulation. In the loss, Arizona shot just 34.5 percent from the floor in the second half, which included a 2-for-10 effort from behind the 3-Point arc. Notably, the Wildcats were outrebounded for the game by a margin of 31-28. Tinkle was a star, finishing with 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Thompson scored 18 in the first meeting against the Wildcats, while doling out eight assists. In total, five Beavers scored in double figures as OSU had 21 assists on 27 field goal makes, and shot an impressive 8-for-18 from 3-Point land.
Despite a standout effort by Zeke Nnaji against OSU (21 points, 9 rebounds), Arizona’s other freshmen struggled in Corvallis. Nico Mannion and Josh Green did combine for 18 points, but on 6-of-20 shooting. Senior guard Dylan Smith was 0-for-6 from the field.
A key player on Thursday could be Arizona’s Stone Gettings.
During the first meeting, a healthy Chase Jeter was still in the starting lineup. Gettings did not attempt a field goal against the Beavers, and only finished with two points and three rebounds. Over the course of the last nine games, as a starter, Gettings is averaging 8.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and is shooting 58.9 percent from the floor. Alongside the always steady Nnaji, who already has 12 double-doubles on the season, including eight in Pac-12 conference games, the pair has become a formidable force in and around the paint.
Arizona is hoping star point guard Mannion can return to form this week. Mannion has struggled to see his shots go down in recent games, but continues to contribute in other ways. There’s a chance he soon will as Mannion seems to be in a traditional freshmen funk that tends to rear its ugly head in the month of February. Fellow freshmen Josh Green was in a similar funk, at one point only scoring in double figures once in a six-game stretch. However, Green has since scored in double figures in three of his last four games to steady his season averages at 11.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Another Wildcat to watch is Smith. The scoring guard broke out of an 0-for-18 shooting slump from deep with a stellar 4-for-5 3-Point shooting effort in the win at Cal. He followed up that performance with 11 points and a season-high six rebounds in the win at Stanford.
On Thursday, Arizona needs to play loose, they need to play fast, and they need to play smart if and when the Beavers are able to control tempo. The visitors will do everything in their power to slow the game down, get into their half court offensive sets, and try and force the Wildcats to play defense for 25-30 seconds per possession. In Corvallis, they executed their offensive sets to perfection, seemingly garnering an assist on what felt like every made bucket. Thursday night, Arizona needs to remain patient and fundamentally sound on defense, close out the defensive possession with a rebound, deflection, or steal, and then push in the open court. If the initial push is not there, Arizona needs to get into its secondary break offense quickly to ensure the Beavers never feel comfortable on that end of the floor.
If OSU is able to get back in defensive transition and force Arizona’s offense to reset away from the basket, the Beavers will feel confident that they can hang with the Wildcats in McKale Center. However, if Arizona’s offense is able to remain on the attack, the Wildcats can and should return the favor by racing away from OSU for a solid, double-digit victory.