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What to watch for when Arizona men’s basketball visits Oregon schools

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-preview-oregon-ducks-osu-beavers-guards-shooting-pac12-2023 Arizona Athletics

Arizona has its first full Pac-12 road trip this weekend, visiting Oregon State on Thursday night and Oregon on Saturday afternoon. The ninth-ranked Wildcats (14-2, 3-2 Pac-12) haven’t made this trip since the 2019-20 season, playing only single games at Oregon and OSU the last two years, respectively.

The UA hasn’t swept the Oregon trip since 2008-09, splitting most pairs but getting swept on the last swing three years ago. Tommy Lloyd has never coached a game in Eugene, as Gonzaga hasn’t played there since 1972, but he hadn’t coached in Corvallis before last season, either.

“24 years of college basketball, played a lot different places,” Lloyd said. “You got to go there and try to go 1 for 1. The court’s the same dimensions, right?

Here’s what to watch for when the Wildcats face the Beavers and Ducks on the road:

The game after

Saturday’s upset loss to Washington State was only the sixth in 53 games under Lloyd, and the first at McKale Center. There has yet to be a 2-game skid during the Lloyd era, as Arizona has not only won every time (not including season-ending ones) after loss but the average margin of victory has been 15 points.

“We’ve been responding great after losses previous times, and that’s what we’re gonna do again,” said wing Pelle Larsson, who said Arizona has looked “hungry” in practices this week.

Lloyd said during his weekly radio show that he met with some of the veterans prior to returning to the court on Monday, which led to a “spirited” practice. He is hopeful that was a sign the team understood how poorly last weekend went and how much they want to keep that from happening again.

“You hope your team responds after struggling,” he said. “I mean, if they didn’t have a good response I’d be more worried. They struggled obviously last weekend, and hopefully they’ve responded a little bit in practice this week. We’re gonna find out tomorrow night, Thursday night in Corvallis we’re gonna find out.”

Guard aggression

Arizona is a big-oriented team, and the overall numbers show that. Oumar Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis combine to take almost 39 percent of the Wildcats’ shots, and each take (and make) more than 60 percent of their shots at or around the rim.

But as efficient as that duo tends to be, they aren’t automatic. Ballo and Tubelis were a combined 12 of 30 on 2-pointers against WSU, and both were below 50 percent on 2s in the comeback win over Washington.

That happened on occasion last season when Tubelis and/or Christian Koloko struggled to score, but the difference was Arizona had someone like Bennedict Mathurin, Dalen Terry or even Justin Kier picking up the slack. And often that was by scoring as much inside as from the perimeter, which hasn’t been the case in 2022-23.

Of the six main backcourt players, Cedric Henderson Jr. (36 percent) is taking the highest rate of his shots at the rim but he averages less than six field goal attempts per game. Larsson is at 34.3 percent, down from 41.1 percent a year ago when he was Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year, while everyone else is below 20 percent.

Down 10 at the half to WSU, Arizona’s guards drove to the basket three times in the first two minutes and that resulted in a trip to the foul line and a pair of baskets off goaltending calls. But the rest of the way it was almost exclusively 3-point attempts from those guys.

“That’s definitely been a focus this week, penetrating off the catch on kick outs and all that stuff, not just relying on our pick and roll game and our big men,” Larsson said.

Lloyd said he wants his guards to be aggressive, but that doesn’t just mean driving into traffic.

“At the end of the day, you got to be aggressive, we got to be in attack mode, and you got to play with confidence,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to establish. I want them to be aggressive, whether that’s hunting shots or getting to the basket, whatever that may be. I just want to be aggressive and then when it’s time to make a decision, I want them to make the right basketball decision.”

Asked about the possibility of a change to the starting lineup or the rotation, Lloyd shook his head. When queried on senior Courtney Ramey, who is 4 for 20 the last three games including 1 of 14 from 3, he just the Texas transfer just needs to play better.

“Play better and play with a little more force and more confidence,” Lloyd said. “He’s capable of doing that.”

Beavers and Ducks

Oregon State (7-9, 1-4) has already more than doubled last season’s win total, when it went 3-28 and lost its final 18 games. The Beavers have dropped their last three, though, all on the road in Pac-12 play, and scored a season-low 42 in their last game at Colorado.

“They might have had a couple of games where they had a tough go, but they’ve had some other games against good teams where they’ve been right there,” Lloyd said, likely referring to one-possession losses to Duke and at USC, as well as a win over Washington. “We’re expecting a battle. We’re not entitled to anything. We’re gonna go up and hopefully we’re gonna play our asses off and leave it all out on the court and we’ll see what the result is.”

OSU is at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 in most offensive and defensive categories, but it is second in conference games in 3-point (39.3) and free throw percentage (78.9). The Beavers don’t get to the line much, however, and have the worse defense free throw rate in the league.

As for Oregon, the Ducks (9-7, 3-2) won at Utah on Saturday to hand the Utes their first Pac-12 loss. That came after scoring their fewest points in 14 years in a loss at Colorado.

Like a lot of teams in college basketball other than Arizona, injuries have played a big role in Oregon’s record. Only four guys have played all 16 games, but the Ducks appear to be getting healthy at the right time.

Oregon is one of five Pac-12 teams that are considered taller than Arizona, by average height of regular players. The Ducks have two 7-footers, plus 6-foot-11 N’Faly Dante and 6-8 Quincy Guerrier among the main rotation.

The OSU game currently counts as a Quad 3 game for Arizona, which sets 10th in the NET rankings, while Oregon would be a Quad 1 game. The Wildcats are 5-1 in Quad 1 games, tied for second-most wins in the country.