Not much has to be said to get the Arizona Wildcats up for this game.
On Saturday, the fifth-ranked Wildcats will face the No. 13 Oregon Ducks in Eugene, Ore. with plenty at stake.
“You don’t have to say anything,” UA guard Allonzo Trier said after Arizona’s win over Oregon State on Thursday. “You don’t have to give anybody any extra motivation. ... We know how good Oregon is. We know what we’re going to expect out of them. It’s going to be a hard-fought game and we’re excited for the challenge.”
For one, the Wildcats (21-2, 10-0 Pac-12) have a chance to bury the Ducks (20-3, 9-1) in second place in the Pac-12 standings.
Arizona has a favorable schedule down the stretch, with a home series against the L.A. schools being the toughest games remaining, and handing Oregon its second conference loss could be enough for the Wildcats to lock up the Pac-12 title.
On top of that, Arizona can avenge last season’s heartbreaking loss to Oregon.
Last January, the Ducks snapped the Wildcats’ 49-game home winning streak when they stunned Arizona 83-75 in McKale Center.
But this time around, it’s the Ducks who have the lengthy home winning streak. Oregon has won 39 games in a row at Matthew Knight Arena.
Will the Wildcats return the favor and break the Ducks’ streak?
“They know it’s a big game,” UA head coach Sean Miller said of his team. “They’ve known it for some time and it’s up to us now to get ready. Last year is last year. We know they were really good last year, they’re equally really good this year. We’re playing them at their homecourt, I’m sure it’s going to be a great crowd. From our perspective it should be an exciting game.”
Both Arizona and Oregon are amid a stretch where they aren’t playing their best basketball.
On Thursday, the Wildcats struggled to get going against Oregon State and were trailing by two at halftime to a four-win Beavers team. Arizona dominated in the second half to eventually win by 17, but it certainly wasn’t its most impressive performance.
The Wildcats did similar things against the Washington schools last week as well, even though they were able to win both games.
Meanwhile, Oregon won by just one point against ASU on Thursday as they needed a late-game explosion by Dillon Brooks to avoid a disastrous upset.
The week before, the Ducks lost to Colorado in Boulder.
Still, there is no doubt that this is a battle of two heavyweights, and the two teams have been neck-and-neck the past few seasons.
Arizona is 5-4 against Oregon in the last nine matchups between the schools.
Who to watch
The Ducks have five players that average double figures, and their leading scorer is Dillon Brooks.
Brooks has battled a few injuries this season, but the junior has been superb when healthy.
The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 14.2 points per game while shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from 3. All three figures are career-highs.
Brooks is a particularly tough matchup because of his ability to operate in the post. Usually, Arizona would put Kadeem Allen on its opposing teams best perimeter scorer, but Brooks might prove to be too big for Allen.
Second on the Ducks in scoring is Chris Boucher who is a basketball unicorn of sorts. The lanky 6-foot-10 big man averages 2.9 blocks per game and has the ability to shoot the 3-ball. Boucher is taking over three 3s per game and is knocking down 32 percent of his attempts.
His ability to space the floor not only forces opposing teams’ big men to cover him on the perimeter, but, in turn, it opens up the paint for the rest of the Ducks.
One of those Ducks is senior forward Jordan Bell who is averaging 11.1 points per game and is shooting 64 percent from the field. The 6-foot-9 forward doesn’t shoot 3s like Boucher, but he’s a force around the basket, which could present a problem for an Arizona frontcourt that has had difficulty protecting the paint recently.
Bell leads the Ducks in rebounding (7.7), as well, plus averages 2.0 blocks per game.
The Ducks have two other guards — former UA commit Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis — that average in double figures, and Dorsey and Ennis are shooting 36 percent and 39 percent from 3, respectively.
Guards Peyton Pritchard and Casey Benson can hit from deep as well, as they shoot 37 percent and 43 percent from 3, respectively.
Defensively, Oregon uses a variety of different looks, but will likely deploy a matchup zone against Arizona, which has been inconsistent attacking zone defense this season.
“He has a variety of different presses,” Miller said of UO head coach Dana Altman. “Sometimes he plays more more man-to-man but at some point during the game he’s played matchup zone. ... I don’t think it’s just us, I think that’s just his philosophy and he knows what he’s doing.”
The Ducks rank as the 19th-best defensive team in the country, per KenPom, and are No. 1 in block percentage (19.4) thanks to the length and athleticism of Bell and Boucher.
“They have a little bit of everything,” Miller said of Oregon. “They have great experience. They have Dylan Ennis who is a sixth year senior, played a lot of great basketball at Villanova. Boucher same thing, I think he’s in his fifth year and they have quite a few players that have been in the program for three. Obviously a great coach, they block shots, they get steals, but on offense they’re shooting and making as many 3s as UCLA. So they have a little bit of everything. That’s why they’re such a good team.”
How they matchup
The Wildcats are better than the Ducks nearly across the board, but not by much. And seeing that this game is taking place in Eugene, it has led the Ducks to open up as 1.5-point favorites.
KenPom projects the Ducks have a 56 percent of winning.
From Arizona’s standpoint, it has gotten off to slow starts in each of the last three games, and a starting lineup change could be in the cards.
Miller hinted Monday that Trier’s return to the starting five will happen eventually, and it’s just a matter of when that time will be.
Trier came off the bench Thursday against Oregon State and scored a season-high 18 points. He is averaging 14.8 points per game since returning from a 19-game suspension.
Depending on which way you look at it, Saturday could be an intriguing time to insert Trier into the starting five.
It could be the spark Arizona needs to get over the hump against the Ducks, yet it could also disrupt a Wildcats team that has won 15 games in a row.
How to watch Saturday’s game
Time: 2 p.m. MST
Live stream: WatchESPN
Announcers: Dave Pasch and Bill Walton (!)
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire