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What to watch for when Arizona rematches Oregon State in Corvallis

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats (16-12, 7-8) will look to extend their two-game winning streak Thursday against the Oregon State Beavers (17-9, 9-5) in Corvallis.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. MST on FOX Sports 1 and here are some things to watch for.

Brandon Williams’ minutes

Williams (knee) did not experience any pain or soreness after playing 18 minutes against Stanford last Sunday, his first action in a month, so Sean Miller said the plan is to increase his workload closer to the 29.4 minutes per game he is averaging on the season.

In other words, expect Williams to play somewhere from 20 to 24 minutes against Oregon State.

Whether that comes in the form of starting or in a bench role remains to be seen, but Arizona is so much more dynamic with Williams on the court. The freshman gives them a much needed slasher, distributor and perimeter scorer. He also takes some of the burden off Justin Coleman, who is the only other player who can consistently create off the dribble.

Arizona was 1-5 in the six games Williams missed.

“He had two passes in the Stanford game that led to a 3-point shot by Brandon Randolph, and I think a dunk by either Chase (Jeter) or Ira (Lee) around the basket,” Miller said of Williams. “He’s very talented in terms of being able to get other people shots. So it was nice to have him back. I felt like it was a big lift for our group, and you felt it both in the first half, also in the second (half) that we’re a little bit deeper, especially as he continues to develop and grow.”

Randolph’s resurgence

Randolph, as Miller noted, was a beneficiary of Williams’ return. The sophomore shot 3 from 22 from behind the arc when Williams was sidelined, but went 2 for 3 on Sunday against Stanford, his best performance in a long while and maybe exactly what he needed to get back on track.

“I almost sensed that he was just relieved,” Miller said. “He’s been in a rut, but the playmaking of Brandon Williams helps Brandon (Randolph) a little bit. It’s another ball handler out there that can pass the ball, make the one more pass, find him.”

While Randolph has been Arizona’s leading scorer all season, his efficiency has dipped tremendously since the start of conference play. Some may view that as a regression to the mean, but his teammates see it as a temporary slump.

“He’s taking the same shots, he’s just making them now,” Lee said after the win vs. Stanford. “Guys get in slumps some times but he’s still shot every single day. He actually got 300 more up after each practice, so it’s starting to show right now.”

Can’t count on anomalies

The first tilt between Arizona and Oregon State back in January was a strange one. Chase Jeter exited with back spasms within the first few minutes, yet the Wildcats were able to cruise to an 82-71 win anyway.

Why? Because they grabbed 21 offensive rebounds and shot 13 for 27 from 3, two numbers that were total outliers.

Predictably, that was not sustainable and the Wildcats proceeded to get blown out in their next two games without Jeter, and that snowballed into the infamous seven-game losing streak.

Miller was asked how Arizona can beat Oregon State in Corvallis without counting on an uncharacteristically hot shooting night, to which he replied, “great question.”

“It’ll be a different game,” he acknowledged. “That was certainly a while back.”

Free throw shooting

Miller added that Arizona will need to be composed at the free-throw line to beat OSU, knowing every point will be critical in Corvallis.

That is an area the Wildcats were strong in at the beginning of the season, but have tailed off considerably ever since. In the five games prior to Sunday’s win vs. Stanford, the Wildcats shot 61.4 percent from the line. The good news is that they went 10 for 12 against the Cardinal, an 83.3 percent clip.

Opponents only shoot 65.2 percent from the stripe against Oregon State, the eighth-lowest mark in the country. Perhaps the Beavers have been a little lucky — or maybe they just know who they should and should not be fouling.

Budding bench

Once seen as a weakness, Arizona’s bench has become one of the best in the Pac-12. The unit has outscored its counterparts 18 times in 30 games this season. In conference play, Arizona’s bench has outscored its counterparts by 102 points.

Devonaire Doutrive, Alex Barcello and Ira Lee have seen in uptick in their production lately. Lee, especially. The sophomore is averaging 8.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game over the last 10 contests and went 19 for 23 from the field in his last five games, including a career-high 16 points against Stanford on Sunday.

“I think we’re at the point now with Ira, if you watch him score the ball, play with less turnovers, less fouls, he’s more experienced, he’s more seasoned,” Miller said. “I think he’s really headed in the right direction. Played a great game against Stanford and we have to get him to play two great games this week on the heels of the game at Stanford and continue his improvement.”

Leader of the Pac

If the season ended today, Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle would be the favorite to be named Pac-12 Player of the Year, per KenPom’s metrics.

The 6-foot-8 junior is the only player in the Pac-12 in the top 10 in scoring (second, 19.8), rebounding (fifth, 8.2), assists (eighth, 4.2) and steals (second, 1.6).

He lit up the Wildcats for 25 points and 10 rebounds on 17 shots in McKale Center last month, despite battling through an ankle sprain.

Arizona does not have an obvious defensive answer for Tinkle. He is too quick off the dribble for someone like Ryan Luther, but too physical for someone like Dylan Smith.

Ira Lee seems like the best option, though he has to be able to defend without fouling, something he has improved at throughout the season.

“He’s big, physical but he’s skilled,” Luther said of Tinkle. “So I think a couple guys are going to have to step up to the challenge and guard him.”

Oregon State’s X-factor

Tinkle is the Beavers’ best player, but they often go as senior guard Stephen Thompson Jr. goes.

Oregon State is 16-5 when Thompson scores in double figures, but 1-4 when he does not. That is not promising for Arizona considering Thompson is averaging a team-best 19.8 points over the last four games, while shooting 53.6 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from deep.

This is Thompson’s final homestand at Gill Coliseum, where he is averaging 23 points per game in conference play. Arizona held him to seven points on six shots the first time around.