The Arizona Wildcats (21-6, 11-3 Pac-12) are coming off a nice week that gave them plenty of rest and a big road win over their hated rival. Now they’re headed off for an Oregon road trip. First up — the Oregon State Beavers (13-13, 5-9) on Thursday night.
These teams met back on Jan. 11 and the Wildcats grabbed their sixth-straight home win over the Beavers, 62-53.
The win wasn’t without its problems though. Arizona’s 62 points are the second-least they’ve scored in a game all season. They were also held to below 42 percent shooting, their worst shooting night.
The Beavers have won four of their last five home games including a rare offensive explosion in their most recent homestand. They scored 94 and 97 points respectively in a pair of wins over the Washington schools.
Arizona may be a favorite ahead of Thursday night’s tilt but between Oregon State’s tough home advantage and the fact that they kept the Wildcats’ high-powered offensive attack in check last time out, this likely won’t be a walk in the park. Let’s take a look at three keys to an Arizona victory:
Make the free ones
Oregon State likes to muck the game up a bit with a defensive physicality that results in a ton of fouls. In 14 Pac-12 games, the Beavers’ opponents have attempted the second-most free throws and made the most.
The Wildcats are not the ideal team to take that strategy against. Arizona has made 78 percent of their free throws in conference play.
Oregon State likes to scare opposing teams off the three-point line and force them to try and score inside. When the Wildcats drive to the hoop or feed one of the bigs, Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic, you should expect the Beavers to do anything they can to take away an easy basket.
If Arizona shoots free throws at their normal rate, they should safely come away with a win and a solid free throw volume. When the Wildcats shoot 20 or more free throws, they’re 11-1 this season.
Oh, make the other ones too
When these teams met back in January, the Wildcats were miserable from the field. They shot 42 percent overall but that only came after a successful second half. Arizona scored just 21 points in the first half and made only five of their first 18 shots.
A few things happened that night that are likely to change in the second meeting. The bench shot just 2-for-10 including a 1-for-7 night from Brandon Randolph. He hasn’t taken that many shots in a game since.
Deandre Ayton took only eight shots that night, one of only five times he’s taken less than 10 shots. Plus, Dusan Ristic was an inefficient 3-of-8 and totaled eight points. In the 10 games since, Ristic is averaging nearly 15 points, hasn’t scored less than double-digits and is shooting 68 percent.
Unless Oregon State’s defense is stifling or the crowd effects the Wildcats heavily, Arizona’s offensive performance should be much better this time around and it will need to be.
Control the tempo
The Beavers want the game to be as slow and plodding as possible. They rank 11th in the Pac-12 in tempo for the season and last during conference play. Oregon State scores only 71 points per game and allow opponents to score only 70.
It would behoove Arizona to speed the game up and get Oregon State running. Parker Jackson-Cartwright needs to push the ball up the floor and let Allonzo Trier go to work.
In a low-scoring slugfest, OSU has a chance. If the score reaches the 80s or even high-70s, the Wildcats have all the advantages.