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What to watch for when Arizona faces Oregon State in Corvallis

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NCAA Basketball: South Dakota State at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats (11-4, 1-1) will look to salvage a split in the Pacific Northwest on Sunday when they head to Corvallis to take on Oregon State Beavers (11-4, 1-2) at Gill Coliseum.

Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. MST on FOX Sports 1. Here are some things to watch for.

Tinkle and Thompson

Oregon State has the third-best offense in the Pac-12 behind Oregon and Arizona, and it is no secret where most of its production comes from.

Tres Tinkle, son of head coach Wayne Tinkle, is arguably the best player in the conference. The 6-foot-7 senior averages 19.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.0 steals per game, the only player in the Pac-12 to be in the top-10 in all four categories.

A crafty scorer, Tinkle gets it done at all three levels, shooting 51 percent from the field, a career-high 47 percent from 3, and 74 percent from the free-throw line.

His wing man is junior Ethan Thompson, a 6-foot-5 guard who averages 16.7 points, 4.5 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game. He is also a balanced scorer.

Altogether, Oregon State has the No. 29 offense in the country, per KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings. The Beavers play at a relatively slow pace, but still average 77.5 points per game, and are 22-0 over the last three seasons when they score 80 or more.

OSU ranks solidly in turnover percentage (24th) and free throw rate (20th). The Wildcats’ ability to defend without fouling, which has been a struggle at times, will be crucial. So too will their rim-protection. The Beavers shoot 54.7 percent inside the arc, the 22nd-best mark in the nation.

Kelley’s paint

Arizona better go up strong at the rim, because Kylor Kelley will. The Beavers big man is the No. 1 shot blocker in the country, sending away 4.2 shots per game. He alters many, many more. (OSU otherwise is average at best on defense.)

Kelley is also the X-factor on offense. OSU has gone 17-3 when Kelley scores 10 or more points, and the Beavers are 8-1 this season when Kelley scores in double figures, though that one loss came Thursday vs. ASU.

For the season, Kelley averages 11.1 points per game on 58 percent shooting.

“Sometimes I’m not being aggressive down low,” Kelley told The Oregonian. “I have to have a mindset before every game, during warmup and stay focused on that.”

A must-win game?

The old saying goes that in order to put yourself in a position to win the Pac-12, you need to sweep at home and split on the road.

Well, if you believe that, then this is a must-win game for the Wildcats. There are obviously NCAA Tournament implications as well. Arizona was listed as a five-seed in ESPN’s latest Bracketology.

The matchup is pretty favorable, with KenPom giving Arizona a 66 percent chance of beating Oregon State. Arizona has won seven straight against the Beavers, including last year’s nail-biter in Corvallis when Devonaire Doutrive laid in an offensive rebound at the buzzer to propel the Wildcats to a 74-72 victory.

Looking ahead, Arizona has Utah and Colorado coming to McKale Center next week, the latter of which is the second-best remaining opponent on UA’s schedule (Oregon being the other).

Heading into that homestand with a 1-2 conference record would make those games must-wins as well if you care about conference championships.

If it’s a close game...

Arizona has faltered in close contests this season, going 1-4 in games decided by five points or less. The most recent ones were losses to St. John’s and Oregon in which Arizona led in the final two minutes but could not hang on. Both times Nico Mannion missed a potential game-winning floater in the final seconds.

However, the actual underlying theme in those losses, per head coach Sean Miller, is Arizona did not scrap enough. (Though poor execution in late-game situations is a big problem as well.)

“The loose balls, a 50-50 ball, a defensive rebound, an offensive rebound where the ball’s kind of traveling through our hands, two guys on the floor, and I thought Oregon got more of those plays,” he said Thursday. “And in a game like the one we just played in, that really, in many ways, can decide it.”

The Beavers are 10-0 this season when leading with five minutes left.

Jeter bouncing back vs. the Beavers, who seem to hate him

Bad things happen to Chase Jeter when Arizona plays Oregon State. The UA big man suffered injuries in both games against the Beavers last season, Tinkle being at the forefront of both plays.

On Jan. 19, 2019 in McKale Center, Tinkle undercut Jeter as he rose for a rebound, causing Jeter to land squarely on his back. He did not return to the game and would miss the next two.

A month later in Corvallis, Jeter banged knees with Tinkle as the OSU forward drove into the lane. Jeter limped off and would briefly return to the game before determining the pain was too much to play through.

Jeter played a couple days later at Oregon, but was limited to six minutes. He took on a more regular workload the following week, but never looked the same the rest of the season.

Sunday’s rematch vs. OSU is an important one for Jeter, who was benched down the stretch against Oregon because he, as Miller said, “didn’t get it done.”

Jeter had one rebound and went 0 for 3 from the field in 12 minutes, and if he has another game like that in Corvallis he might not be starting much longer.

But first and foremost, let’s hope he is able to avoid injury this time.

Freshman follow-up

Even though Arizona lost to Oregon, it was a great showing by UA’s freshmen in their first Pac-12 road game. Mannion had 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting and his best friend Josh Green chipped in with 17 points on 11 shots to go along with five rebounds and two dazzling dimes.

Zeke Nnaji had another double-double (11 points, 14 rebounds) but the Wildcats probably regret not getting him the ball down the stretch. He finished with only eight field goal attempts, none of which were taken in the overtime period.

Feeding him in the post has been a point of emphasis all season, and that will be no different in Corvallis.

Sean Miller vs. Sean Miller-Moore

In a storyline fit for #Pac-12AfterDark, Sean Miller will have to find a way to keep Sean Miller-Moore off the offensive glass.

Miller-Moore, a junior at Oregon State, is a 6-foot-5 junior college transfer whose 22 offensive boards are tied for most on the team with Kelley, despite the fact Miller-Moore only averages 9.5 minutes per game.

Sean Miller-Moore could also be the name of a head coach who is willing to play zone defense for more than a few possessions at a time.