The Arizona Wildcats (22-7, 12-4) have a lot going on off the floor these days but basketball is, in fact, still going on, as they wrap up their regular season with two games in McKale Center over the next few days.
On Thursday night, the Wildcats take on the Stanford Cardinal (16-13, 10-6) for the second time this season.
Back on Jan. 20, the Wildcats escaped Maples Pavilion with a 73-71 victory in a back-and-forth affair.
But that was back when Sean Miller was running the show, Allonzo Trier was getting buckets, Arizona had won 13 of their last 14 and everything seemed just peachy.
Now we may not know Miller’s future but it sure seems as if Lorenzo Romar will be head coach on Thursday night, Trier, who has been suspended indefinitely after failing a drug test, is highly unlikely to be on the floor, and Arizona is just 3-3 in their last six games.
Arizona did a great job of competing under tough circumstances last Saturday night and Romar deserves credit for that. But in the grand scheme of things, Arizona took an L against Oregon, leaving Romar 0-1 as the man in charge and the Wildcats 1-1 without Trier this season. In their lone win, they needed overtime to put away Oregon State.
There’s a lot to prove this weekend for the Wildcats. The seniors will certainly want to go out on a high note in their final homestand. Here are three keys to Arizona getting the job done on Thursday night:
There’s a whole lot of talking going on these days about Arizona basketball. On Thursday night, the players can escape the noise and something tells me that, at least for two hours, they want to shut everyone up.
We saw a preview of this against on Oregon last Saturday night with Rawle Alkins trying to run everyone over and Deandre Ayton wanting to tear a rim down. Alkins finished with 24-5-5 and Ayton dropped 28 and 18 with four blocks on 11-of-15 shooting.
It’s fair to expect the same type of aggression from those two against the Cardinal and we could even be in for a treat from Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, two Wildcats that don’t want controversy to overshadow their final games in McKale Center.
If Arizona comes out angry, they may be unstoppable at the offensive end.
Arizona may have lost in Eugene last weekend but their offense looked like a completely different animal.
They were running, they were pushing the ball and they didn’t settle for as many bad shots as they normally do.
The first 30 minutes was the Deandre Ayton show as he completely dominated the Ducks. Oregon was able to bottle him up for the final 15 with double teams and denying entry passes.
If Stanford elects to double Ayton every time down, it’s up to everyone else to make them pay for it. More importantly though, feeding the ball to Ayton will be huge, even if he’s being swarmed in the post. If he gets it in the post and they collapse around him, he has the ability to make the right pass out of that situation to open shooters.
Get out and run. Get Ayton touches. Sounds simple enough.
With Arizona playing as aggressive as they did on Saturday, it led to some carelessness which amounted to 17 turnovers. The big problem was the fact that Oregon only turned it over four times. A -13 turnover differential is just too hard to overcome.
The style Arizona played with in Oregon fits with the roster though. It’s a fast, hyper-athletic group. Frankly, they should have had a run-and-gun style all along. But to make up for the occasional recklessness that comes along with being a team that wants to score non-stop, the Wildcats need to play the passing lanes and have active hands at the defensive end.
If the turnover differential is a huge plus or even a slight negative, Arizona should be safe to get back in the win column.