Oregon, which lost to Arizona 90-83 earlier in the season, is a two-point favorite in the rematch.
Here are some some things to watch.
The giant elephant in the room
This game feels insignificant compared to everything going on around the Arizona program right now, to be honest.
Late Friday, an ESPN report said FBI wiretaps have UA coach Sean Miller discussing a $100,000 payment to ensure the signing of star freshman Deandre Ayton.
Another report by Yahoo! revealed that former Arizona assistants Book Richardson and Joe Pasternack worked with agents to help secure other recruits.
There’s also Allonzo Trier’s recent PED suspension.
It’s bad, bad stuff that paints the UA program in an extremely unflattering light. So it feels like whatever the Wildcats do on the court Saturday — and the rest of this season — will be mitigated by what is happening off of it, and rightfully so.
But Saturday’s game still has to be played, which should make for an awkward, yet interesting, situation in Eugene where the Wildcats will be under more scrutiny than ever. The ‘FBI’ chants will be louder. The boos will be deafening.
It’s unfortunate for Arizona players more than anything, especially someone like Dusan Ristic, who is on the verge of becoming the program’s all-time winningest player.
That is something that should be celebrated but instead will be overlooked because of all the outside noise (which includes a few high-profile media members, and Jason Terry, calling for Miller’s job).
Oh yeah, actual basketball things are happening
Should we actually talk about basketball? It seems irrelevant, but let’s do it anyway.
As already mentioned, Ristic is one win away from becoming UA’s all-time wins leader (that includes victories that could be vacated down the road, however). The senior has accounted for 110 wins at Arizona, the same as Kaleb Tarczewski and Matt Muehlebach.
This will also be Arizona’s second game without Trier, who is suspended indefinitely after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs again. The first game didn’t go so well. The Wildcats had one of their worst performances of the season in an overtime win against Oregon State.
Quite frankly, Arizona is doomed this season if Trier isn’t reinstated. The Wildcats don’t have the ability to replace the junior’s scoring ability. Without him, Arizona really only has three reliable scoring options in Ristic, Ayton, and Rawle Alkins (Ayton’s eligibility could be in question soon, too).
And the Wildcats’ defense, which ranks 89th in the country, isn’t good enough to keep the team afloat if the offense regresses.
So if Trier is done for the year, so are UA’s chances of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Trier out, freshmen in
Perhaps the one silver lining about Trier’s absence is that it means more minutes for the freshmen. Emmanuel Akot played 25 minutes last game, Brandon Randolph played 11, and Alex Barcello even played seven.
Akot was solid defensively and Barcello and Randolph both scored four points. Even with Dylan Smith slotted in the starting lineup, Arizona’s bench generated 14 points, one of its highest totals all season.
While these players are all downgrades from Trier, nothing accelerates their learning curve more than actual playing time.
And who knows, maybe someone like Akot will become a solid, consistent contributor in Trier’s stead, which could improve the quality of UA’s depth in the long run if Trier is eventually able to return.
An Arizona win (or a USC loss) clinches a Pac-12 title
Seeing Arizona cut down the nets right now would feel strange, but it could happen Saturday. The Wildcats hold a two-game lead in the loss column over USC with three games to play.
UA’s magic number is one, so a win over Oregon means Arizona would clinch at least a share of the Pac-12 title. The same is true if USC loses to Utah on Saturday. The Utes have won five straight, while the Trojans, like Arizona, are marred by the FBI investigation.
Those two tip off at 12:30 p.m. MST, meaning it’s possible Arizona is already the Pac-12 champion by the time its game begins.
Arizona looking to avenge last season’s debacle
Arizona was eviscerated by Oregon in Eugene last season. The Ducks routed UA 85-58 and made 16 3s, the most ever at Matthew Knight Arena.
“It was one of the toughest road games ever for me,” Ristic said. “It was a tough game. I think at one point they made 10 or 11 threes in a row and it felt really funny. We all felt powerless at some point. But hopefully this year we’ll change that.”
Oregon, which made the Final Four last year, basically has an entirely new roster this season and isn’t nearly as good, entering Saturday’s game 18-10 and 8-7 in the Pac-12.
“A lot has happened since that game,” Miller said. “I’ve been in a lot of games ... and that’s one that’s not easy to forget. It was like a video game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many 3-point shots go in.”
Miller walked slowly off the court last year with his head bowed after his team was run off the court. Imagine if that happens again Saturday amidst all this controversy.
Oh, the symbolism.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire