The Arizona Wildcats (22-6, 12-3) have to play in an arena on Saturday night where they lost by 27 points a season ago and they likely won’t have their second leading scorer on the floor.
And it gets worse.
It’s never a great time to have to play the Oregon Ducks (18-10, 8-7) in Eugene but this one couldn’t possibly come at a worse time. Not only was Allonzo Trier deemed ineligible earlier this week but the program is now in shambles after ESPN dropped a bombshell report Friday.
The report detailed that FBI wiretaps intercepted conversations between Sean Miller and Christian Dawkins, a target of the FBI’s college basketball corruption case, that discussed a $100,000 payment to ensure Deandre Ayton signed with Arizona.
It’s late February and basketball should be on the minds of every Wildcat fan. The Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments are just around the corner. But after these tumultuous couple of days, where do we even go from here?
This article will run on Saturday morning, a good 11 to 12 hours before tip-off. Who knows what could change between now and then? We thought we’d be wondering about Trier’s eligibility ahead of Saturday night’s meeting with the Ducks. Instead, we don’t even know if Miller will be on the sideline or how this affects Ayton’s status.
We don’t know what in the world this day could hold but a basketball game will be played tonight. Bill Walton will wax poetic about who knows what, Dave Pasch will direct us back to the game and the Wildcats will attempt to escape Matthew Knight Arena with a win.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the “This is fine” meme — the cartoon dog sitting at the kitchen table while the house burns down around him, pretending everything is okay while he just goes back to sipping his coffee. I don’t know the origin of the meme but let’s follow that dog’s lead for now. While the Arizona basketball program potentially goes down in flames, let’s take a look at three keys to beating Oregon tonight.
Don’t rely on offensive rebounds
Arizona has been the best shooting team in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the country, shooting 51 percent. But in Arizona’s three consecutive wins, they’ve pulled down double-digit offensive rebounds, doing a great job of using their size to capitalize on misses. Those offensive boards came in handy in their last two games, a close win over ASU and an overtime win over Oregon State.
But the Ducks allow the second-least amount of offensive rebounds in the Pac-12 and only let the Wildcats nab three in their first meeting back in mid-January.
With an expected lack of second-chance points, working for good looks and feeding the ball inside could be huge for the ‘Cats in this one.
Arizona’s defense was panned for the first three months of the season but they’ve been much more successful on the defensive end over the last two weeks.
In their last three games, the Wildcats have held each opponent to below 45 percent from the floor and below 32 percent from long range in addition to only giving up 67.3 points per game.
Their defensive effort has been much improved and it’ll need to stay that way in Eugene. The Ducks hung 83 on Arizona last time out, the most Arizona has surrendered in conference play. The Wildcats’ defense needs to be keyed in on Oregon’s pair of perimeter threats Payton Pritchard and Elijah Brown, who just ran roughshod over the Sun Devils for 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting on Thursday night.
Tune out the noise
This one will be tough.
The Ducks sport one of the more notoriously brutal crowds on the West coast and with the last few days that Arizona has had, they just might be eaten alive on Saturday night.
It will be extremely important for the Wildcats that are able to suit up to keep their minds focused on the task at hand. Because of all the off-the-court stuff, the momentum is already with Oregon before the game even tips off. If they let the crowd, the stress, the pressure and the moment take control, it will be an ugly night.
Arizona has to take a business approach to this one. No matter who is on the floor next to you, or who is on the sideline for that matter, just hoop. At the end of the day, that’s all this team can do at this point.
Everything else — eligibility, staff changes, the future of the program — is in someone else’s hands.