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What to watch for when Arizona men’s basketball hosts Oregon

Time to end that skid to the Ducks?

arizona-wildcats-oregon-ducks-mens-basketball-preview-losing-streak-pac12-espn-gameday-2022 Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats will be at the center of the college basketball universe, for one night at least, when it hosts the Oregon Ducks on Saturday night at McKale Center.

ESPN’s College GameDay studio show is making its first trip to Tucson since February 2017, when it was on hand for a 77-72 loss to UCLA. And it’s about four years since GameDay analysts Seth Greenberg and Jay Bilas reacted to the still-unsubstantiated ESPN report alleging Sean Miller had paid Deandre Ayton to play for the UA, with both suggesting that Miller and Ayton were both done at Arizona.

As for the game itself, No. 3 Arizona (23-2, 13-1 Pac-12) will be looking to end a 7-game losing streak to the Ducks (17-9, 10-5) and move closer to its first regular-season conference title since 2018.

Here’s what to watch for when the UA and Oregon meet on Saturday night:

A better beginning

Another game, another disappointing start for Arizona during Thursday’s 83-69 win over last-place Oregon State. The final score isn’t indicative of how much of a blowout it was—the Wildcats were up 23 with less than four minutes to go—and also doesn’t tell the story of how the first half went.

But that’s been the case for a lot of UA games this season, with it falling behind in the opening 10-plus minutes only to be ahead at halftime and then run away in the second half.

Coach Tommy Lloyd took the blame for Thursday’s start, saying he was trying out some different stuff on defense and it led to Arizona not being its normal aggressive self, both offensively and defensively. OSU also made 5 of 8 3-pointers early, despite being one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the Pac-12, and they weren’t all open looks.

Neither Lloyd or his players are worried about the slow starts, however.

“Honestly there’s nothing to it,” Dalen Terry said. “It just kind of happens. That’s on the players, obviously. We got to pick it up. We did a good job of picking it up in the middle of the first half and keeping it in the second half of the game.”

Oregon might be coming to Tucson off an ugly 24-point loss at ASU on Thursday, but the Ducks have won at UCLA, USC and Colorado in the past five weeks, so falling behind early would be unwise.

Those darned Ducks

Oregon was picked to finish second in the Pac-12 this season, picking up a few first-place votes in the process. Yet at no point since conference play has begun have the Ducks been in contention for the regular-season title, and not just because Arizona has been running away with it.

Their five Pac-12 losses are already tied for their most in a season since 2018-19, with five to play. And while they have some good wins, as mentioned above, they also have lost twice to ASU and also by 14 at home to Cal last week.

Oregon is second in the league in scoring, at 72.9 points per game, and also second in field goal shooting at 44.9 percent. It doesn’t shoot free throws well, though, making 66.7 percent of its foul shots in conference play, and also doesn’t get to the line that much.

Senior guard Will Richardson is averaging 15 points per game, but while averaging 15 in three games against Arizona in Eugene he’s scored only 10 points on 5-of-17 shooting in three games at McKale.

The Ducks are above average in most defensive categories other than rebounding, which could play right into Arizona’s hands with its size advantage in the frontcourt.

“I think they’re a really good team,” Lloyd said of Oregon. “I have a feeling we’re gonna get a great effort from Oregon Saturday night, and so we’ve got to be much better than we were in the first half” against OSU.

Arizona’s 7-game skid against Oregon dates back to February 2018, a 98-93 loss in Eugene that Miller did not coach in the wake of the ESPN allegations. It was also the first of five losses to the Ducks by five or fewer points during the skid, including consecutive 1-point overtime setebacks in 2019-20.

The second of those, in Tucson, saw then-freshman Christian Koloko missed two free throws with 1 second left in OT.

Keep on passing (to the same-colored jersey)

Arizona had 26 assists against Oregon State on Thursday, its fifth game with 25 or more dimes that is tied with Belmont and Tennessee Tech (who have played 28 and 27 games, respectively) for the most in the country. The Wildcats lead the nation in assists per game, at 20.3.

Those 26 assists came against just nine turnovers, the second consecutive game Arizona had single-digits in the giveaway category. That’s the first time that happened this season and came after a pair of games when Arizona’s opponents got 40 percent of more of its points off UA miscues.

“We passed the ball to our colored jerseys,” Lloyd joked on Wednesday.

Lloyd has said 12 turnovers is an acceptable number for his team, considering how much it passes the ball and how aggressive it likes to be on offense. The key is making good passes, not trying to get too ahead of itself.

“The way we play you got to be aggressive, you cannot be conservative,” he said. “So with that, I can’t turn the faucet off on our aggression, and then maybe all our playmaking dies. There’s a little bit of a give and take there. So I just tried to really challenge the guys. Hey, if you can make one better decision, maybe one time you get in a bad situation, you play with a little bit better fundamentals, if we have eight guys doing that maybe we eliminate four turnovers.”

Oregon is third in the Pac-12 in defensive turnover rate.