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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Familiar foes primed for another classic

    If Arizona-Oregon part three is anything like the first two matchups, expect the teams to light up the scoreboard, trade runs and eventually have one squad’s senior hit the game winner.

    In today’s 1:20 p.m. grudge match at Staples Center in the quarterfinals of the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament, No. 5 seed Arizona (20-9, 11-7 Pac-10) and No. 4 seed Oregon (23-7, 11-7) both have revenge on their minds, as each team this season stole a game on the opposition’s home court.

    “”I think it’s definitely personal because of the way both teams have lost- game-winning buckets – so obviously we kind of want a tie-breaker right here,”” UA forward Marcus Williams said.

    The game could provide more than bragging rights for Arizona against the only Pac-10 school the Wildcats split with.

    With both Arizona (No. 13) and Oregon (No. 28) well ahead of USC (No. 53) in the RPI and all three squads tying for the conference’s third spot during the regular season, the winner of this contest could receive the Pac-10’s third-best seed, which would likely lead to less travel mileage in next week’s NCAA Tournament.

    “”I think it’s big,”” Williams said. “”You don’t want to end up with a 7 or 8 seed like last year. You win that game and bump into a No. 1. All these games, hopefully, like I said we could win out and you end up with a 4, and you’re a little bit closer, a little bit more comfortable.

    “”Obviously tournament time everyone plays well, but I mean I want to be on a winning streak going into the tournament.””

    As forward Ivan Radenovic added, the committee looks at each team’s past 10 games, so a win against Oregon to add to a 6-2 run for Arizona would certainly be helpful for seeding purposes.

    Buoyed by that stretch the Wildcats enter Los Angeles hot away from McKale Center and in close games, having won three in a row overall and their past five on the road by an average of 4.4 points per game. That’s something Arizona failed to do in the middle of the season when losing a number of heartbreakers, including a 79-77 loss to Oregon in McKale Center Jan. 14.

    “”We lost about four or five games in the same way this year that we just won those three games, com(ing) down to the wire the last two or three minutes,”” said guard Mustafa Shakur. “”That’s what we’re doing now, we’re closing out the game as we once did at the beginning of the year.””

    Said Williams: “”We’ve strung off a lot of gut-check wins, which is big for us because obviously from now on there’s no home games at all, whether you’re close to home or not.””

    The Wildcats have gutted out these wins with an improved defense that has allowed 68.6 points per game in the five contests, more than five points less than their overall conference scoring defense, including allowing the Ducks to shoot 41.2 percent Feb. 10.

    “”I think the big thing with us is getting our defense together, and that’s definitely something we’ve gotten together,”” Shakur said, “”and it’s going to help us in the Pac-10 Tournament.””

    Arizona also has a pair of neutral-court contests to draw from before facing an Oregon squad that has not been in that situation this season.

    Although playing Illinois in Phoenix wasn’t exactly neutral in reality, Williams said the Louisville contest in New York will help Arizona this weekend.

    “”You kind of learn from those,”” he said. “”Obviously you don’t want to think about it too much as far as the game itself, you just want to learn from how it felt out there. … You’re not going to expect nothing on either side, but also the crowd is still going to tell you when to rush and when to slow the ball down and work it around to get good shots.””

    In the regular-season finale at Stanford Saturday, reserve guard Nic Wise and forward Fendi Onobun combined for eight points in 23 minutes after the duo played all of three minutes the previous six. Arizona’s newfound depth could become a factor, especially if it makes a run in the conference tournament, requiring the Wildcats to play three games in as many days.

    “”You find out that sometimes the bench will surprise you,”” UA head coach Lute Olson said. “”I looked back at the tape, and Nic Wise played great at both ends of the floor. Fendi did a nice job, so that was something we should have done maybe a little earlier, but those games were so competitive.

    “”It was sort of the kind of thing where you feel like every game is decided by one possession or two.””

    The UA bench will also be boosted by the return of guard Jawann McClellan, who missed the Stanford game because of a shoulder strain. Olson said McClellan would return to practice yesterday and likely play against the Ducks.

    But it will likely be the starters who determine how far Arizona can improve its NCAA Tournament seed this weekend.

    “”This is the time where the big players come through,”” Shakur said. “”This is the time right now, Pac-10 and the tournament, so myself and my teammates are looking forward to this challenge right now.””

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