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What to watch for when Arizona hosts Oregon on Saturday afternoon

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Washington at Arizona Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a short turnaround for the Arizona Wildcats, who after beating Oregon State on Thursday night will be right back at it on Saturday afternoon when they host the Oregon Ducks at McKale Center.

Arizona (14-6, 8-6 Pac-12) has lost five in a row to the Ducks, dropping both matchups last season in overtime. Oregon (11-4, 6-3 Pac-12) will be playing only their fifth game in the past five weeks after having gone on two COVID-related pauses.

Tip is set for 12 p.m. MST, with ESPN2 airing the contest. Here’s what to be watching for:

A shorter (yet more balanced) rotation

The ankle injury that kept Ira Lee out of Thursday’s game meant, once again, Arizona was back to an eight-man rotation. That’s how it had been since Jemarl Baker Jr. suffered a season-ending wrist injury in early January until Kerr Kriisa became eligible last week, bringing the number of regulars to nine but only for two games.

That’s nothing new for Arizona under Miller, who over the years hasn’t really gone too deep on his bench. But the eight healthy players he has right now might be the most balanced in quite some time.

All eight played at least 20 minutes against Oregon State, the first time that’s happened this season and the first instance of that many guys logging that much court time since a December 2019 win over Omaha that was so lopsided—final score: 99-49—that no Wildcat played more than 26 minutes.

Kriisa, who made his first start on Thursday, has seen his minutes gradually increase from 16 in his debut to 20, and since he became eligible only James Akinjo has played 30 or more in every game.

What to make of the Ducks

Oregon, which won 75-64 at ASU on Thursday, has played five fewer games than Arizona because of its COVID pauses. The first of those caused the first matchup between the teams to be postponed back in mid-January, and it has yet to be rescheduled.

The Ducks have won their last two after going four weeks without a victory, losing at home to Oregon State and at Washington State in their subsequent returns to action. They appear to have shaken the rust off, though, and they come to McKale as close to full strength as they’ve been all season.

Junior point guard Will Richardson missed the first 12 games with a thumb injury but is averaging 14.7 points and 4.3 assists since returning. Senior guard Chris Duarte, who has missed time with an ankle injury, had 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists in Tempe and is shooting 45.6 percent from 3.

Only three Ducks have played every game this season, with senior forward Eugene Omoruyi the only one to start all 15 contests. The Rutgers transfer had 18 and 10 at ASU and is averaging 17.7 per game.

Board men get paid

Arizona remains one of two squads in Division I that has not been outrebounded this season, the other being Mountain West leader Utah State. The Wildcats pulled down 47 rebounds against OSU, their most in a regulation game this season, and that included 15 offensive boards that resulted in 17 second-chance points.

The UA sits 16th nationally in offensive rebound percentage, pulling down 35.4 percent of its misses, while holding opponents to offensive boards on just 23.4 percent of its non-makes to rank 23rd in the country. Arizona is second and first, respectively, in those categories in Pac-12 play, while Oregon is sixth and fifth, respectively.

Yet it’s the Ducks—who were outrebounded 43-42 at ASU despite winning by 11—who have two players ranking in the top seven in the league in rebounds per game, not Arizona. LJ Figueroa averages 6.8 per game while Eric Williams averages 6.5.

Azuolas Tubelis is Arizona’s top rebounder, at 6.3 per game, but for the Wildcats it’s been a team effort as six different Wildcats have had at least seven boards in a game and four have logged double digits.

Not missing the free ones

Arizona went 23 for 34 from the foul line on Thursday, a mixed bag of a performance. It once again made more free throws than the opponent took—OSU had only 10 attempts—but it missed 10-plus for the fifth time this season.

The UA is third nationally in free throw attempt rate yet 134th in foul shooting percentage, at 72.0. In Pac-12 play the Wildcats’ 72.5 percent free throw accuracy is ninth-best, and in losses at Stanford and Colorado the margin of defeat was fewer than the number of foul shots they missed.

Oregon hasn’t shown the same kind of drive to get to the line, ranking 10th in the Pac-12 in FT rate, but that’s nothing new. The Ducks have been in the bottom 100 in that statistic the past three seasons under coach Dana Altman, and in their last four games their opponents have out-attempted them 89-73 at the charity stripe.

On the doorstep of a milestone

A win Saturday would be the 300th at Arizona for Sean Miller, who is in his 12th season. Lute Olson won 587 games with the Wildcats from 1983-2007 but didn’t reach 300 until his 13th year.

Miller, whose 147 conference victories are 10th-most in Pac-12 history, would be only the third Arizona coach to get to 300. Fred Enke won 509 games from 1925-61.

Only 19 Division I coaches have 300 or more wins at their current school. And for the record, only nine of them have made a Final Four.