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3 keys to an Arizona win over Oregon

After a win to get back on track, the Wildcats now must deal with a program that’s been a thorn in their side

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Championship Arizona vs Oregon Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The 17th-ranked Arizona Wildcats (13-4, 3-1 Pac-12) got back on track on Thursday night with a 62-53 victory over Oregon State and now must gear up to face what could be considered Arizona’s greatest rival over the last few seasons — the Oregon Ducks (12-5, 2-2).

The Ducks got back on track themselves Thursday night with a win in Tempe over 11th-ranked Arizona State, 76-72.

While still talented, this year’s Ducks team is a far cry from last year’s Final Four squad that came a couple missed boxouts away from a National Championship game appearance. They lost their five best scorers of a year ago to graduation and the NBA.

Still, head coach Dana Altman always has his team prepared no matter the roster and it’s always interesting when the Wildcats and Ducks lock up.

The last time Oregon traveled to Tucson, they ended Arizona’s 49-game home win streak. That happened back in January of 2016 and was the first of three consecutive wins for the Ducks over the Wildcats before Arizona ended that streak in last year’s Pac-12 Tournament Championship game.

The rivalry renews on Saturday at noon MST on ESPN2.

What can Arizona do to make sure the Ducks don’t walk out of McKale a victor for the second consecutive time? Here are three keys to a Wildcat win:

Defensive repeat

Arizona’s defense stepped up on Thursday night and it was much needed considering the offense strangely didn’t show up.

The Wildcats gave up only 53 points to Oregon State, tied for the lowest amount of points surrendered by Arizona this season and they showed a tremendous amount of effort, something that has lacked this season.

Oregon is averaging over 81 points per game this year, sporting an offense anchored by a high volume of 3-point shooting. But as intimidating as that 81 per game might look, the Ducks offense is more susceptible to being stopped than it may appear, especially lately.

In four Pac-12 games, Oregon has scored just 68.3 points per contest on 42 percent shooting from the floor and just 30 percent from deep.

With the Wildcats’ increased defensive effort, now could be the perfect time for Arizona to square off with an Oregon offense going through a bit of a slump.

If the effort is there, expect the Wildcats to force the Ducks into taking bad shots and a lot of them. If the effort isn’t, Oregon could snap out of their slump rather quickly.

Finding good looks against a zone

Arizona will matchup against yet another zone defense on Saturday, a zone defense much like the one that held the Wildcats to 21 first-half points and 62 overall on Thursday night.

Breaking a zone defense has been a long-running issue for Sean Miller’s Wildcats. At times during his tenure, that could have been attributed to Arizona not having the ideal personnel to get the job done. This is not one of those teams, though.

With two great post players, good spot-up shooters, wings that can attack the gaps with aggression and a point guard capable of making entry passes, the zone shouldn’t baffle the Wildcats like it did in Thursday’s first half.

Arizona will need consistent and quick ball movement to get the ball inside to Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic. Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins will need to immediately attack the hoop to either score or at least collapse the defense and pass it off. Parker Jackson-Cartwright has to be a floor general and keep the ball moving.

More than anything though, Arizona has to make their shots. The only way to truly break a zone is with shot-making. Trier, Alkins, Jackson-Cartwright, Dylan Smith and Brandon Randolph will need to take advantage of their opportunities and knock them down. The Wildcats simply can’t afford a repeat of Thursday night’s first half.

Stay away from a chess match

Some people around here like to pile on Sean Miller. I’m not one of those people. Other than the issue with zone defenses that never seems to go away, I’m a believer that Miller is as good as advertised and there are not many coaches in the nation that can outdo him.

That said, Altman is one of them.

Altman has given the ‘Cats fits in the past with simple X’s and O’s and that’s the reason he has a respectable 6-7 record against Arizona since he became the Ducks coach despite having several less talented teams over the years.

This year’s Wildcats have a distinct advantage in both talent and athleticism. They can turn the game into a track meet with active hands on defense and immediately getting out and running off of defensive rebounds. If they do these things, the fast break points will come in droves and the red and blue should cruise to a home sweep of the Oregon schools.

But if the game stays in the half-court for 40 minutes, Altman’s schemes could cause serious trouble for Arizona.