The Arizona Wildcats (12-4, 2-1 Pac-12) had their nine-game win streak halted rather unceremoniously last Saturday afternoon in Boulder, and will now return home in an attempt to right the ship as the Oregon schools come to McKale Center for the weekend.
First up, it’ll be the Oregon State Beavers (10-5, 2-1) who have already doubled their win total from a year ago. Led by sophomore forward Tres Tinkle and junior guard Stephen Thompson Jr., the Beavs have put their horrendous 5-27 season from a year ago behind them and now appear to be an NCAA Tournament contender.
Arizona’s loss to Colorado killed the momentum the Wildcats had spent a month and a half building up. Now the ‘Cats must recover and as the saying goes — there’s no place like home. But this is certainly no guarantee. What Arizona has lacked at points is effort and toughness, hence Sean Miller’s grumpiness about the Wildcats’ inability to string together 40 minutes of effort.
There’s been no question of Oregon State’s effort this season and if they outwork the Wildcats, they could snag their first win in McKale Center since 2010.
Here are three keys for Arizona to stop that from happening:
Watch out for foul trouble
Oregon State’s offense is aggressive and they force their way to the line like few others do. They rank 22nd in the nation in both free throws attempted and opponents’ personal fouls per game.
They’re not great at making them, though. They only shoot 70.5 percent from the charity stripe. A points advantage from the line for the Beavers isn’t the issue as Arizona shoots plenty of free throws too and actually make theirs.
The issue is the fact that the Wildcats have no depth and foul trouble can be a death knell for the red and blue. Miller has barely trusted his second unit to get minutes and if the Wildcats are forced to play their bench, it could show why he has such distrust.
Brandon Randolph and Keanu Pinder are the only two bench players with an offensive rating (the higher, the better) that exceeds their defensive rating (the lower, the better). And that comes with Pinder not even playing ten minutes a game.
Arizona has to be cautious when the Beavers drive to the basket and keep their best guys out of foul trouble. If they don’t, the bench will be tested. And from what we’ve seen so far, we can’t be sure that it’s a test they’re capable of passing.
Don’t get me wrong, the Beavers don’t shoot it from the outside much. They take only 18 3-pointers per contest, ranking 301st in the nation. Their 3-point shooting percentage isn’t much better at 31.5 percent, ranking 295th in the country.
But that’s the point here — Arizona has had no trouble giving up 3-pointers to opponents. Bad help defense and slow closeouts have been an issue for the Wildcats for much of the season. They’ve given up nine 3-pointers per game in their three Pac-12 games to this point thanks to their uninspired perimeter defense.
Thursday night will be a nice test to see where Arizona’s perimeter defense is at. They’re going up against a team that barely bothers to take shots from beyond the arc. Playing a team that doesn’t focus on 3-pointers or run any type of slash-and-kick offense could be a great thing for Arizona. They have less to worry about from deep and can perhaps focus more on defense and have less temporary lapses than what we’ve seen.
On the flip side, in the event that the Wildcats have their same issues and give OSU open shots and the Beavers, of all teams, are splashing 3s against this Arizona defense, can they stop anyone?
Utilize the size
With Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic down low, the Wildcats will have a size advantage on just about any opponent. Against Oregon State, that’s especially true. Drew Eubanks is the only Beaver that’s taller than 6-foot-8 that sees double digit minutes.
With Arizona’s size in the middle and an athletic advantage, they can take away easy buckets from a smaller, less athletic Beaver squad. In all of their five losses this season, Oregon State has shot 44 percent or worse. If Arizona takes away their offense on the inside with their superior size, they should cruise to a win on their home floor.