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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona men’s basketball looks for revenge against Beavers

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Jordan Glenn

Arizona men’s basketball guard T.J. McConnell (4) looks to drive past Oregon forward Elgin Cook (23) during Arizona’s 90-56 victory on Wednesday in McKale Center. McConnell and the Wildcats take on Oregon State on Friday in a revenge game.

They wouldn’t explicitly tell you even if you asked, but the No. 6 Arizona men’s basketball team is looking forward to a revenge game against Oregon State on Friday in McKale Center. In a game that received plenty of national attention, the Beavers took down the Wildcats 58-56 in Corvallis, Ore., on Jan. 11 in the first matchup between the two teams.

Since that point, Arizona (19-2, 7-1 Pac-12 Conference) has gone on a five-game winning streak and defeated teams by an average of 19.2 points per game. Just one of those five teams, Stanford, scored above 56 points.

Offensively, Arizona put up games of 89 and 90 points and has seemed like a more complete team. Against Oregon on Wednesday, six Wildcats scored in double figures and the UA won by 34 points. 

“That kind of just shows that we can have those kind of nights on any given night,” UA guard T.J. McConnell said. “That four or five guys scoring in double figures … shows how lethal we can really be.”

McConnell has been a driving force behind the recent offensive overhaul for the Wildcats. The senior has taken up a bigger offensive role as of late, but hasn’t really seen that show up on the stat sheet. 

He’s averaging 10 points per game over the five-game winning streak, a stat that doesn’t jump off the page. It’s how he’s getting his points that make his production so valuable. McConnell has taken up a take-what-the-defense-gives-him attitude and has begun to take over games when he sees fit.

If the team is struggling to score for a stretch of time, McConnell has been adjusting his mindset accordingly and be more aggressive. On the flip side, McConnell is just as comfortable, if not even more, deferring to teammates and racking up assists instead of points.

As Arizona head coach Sean Miller puts it, McConnell is exactly the kind of leader the Wildcats need.

“He’s the one guy that I always know is never looking up there at the scoreboard to see how many points he has,” Miller said. “He doesn’t care. He’s the consummate playmaker, leader [and] winner. He’s our team’s heart and soul.” 

In the first matchup against Oregon State, McConnell was one of just two Wildcats to score in double figures. Miller and company will need much more to take down the Beavers this go-around. 

Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski combined for just 16 points in the debacle that was the first game. It’s unlikely those three will combine for so few points again. Johnson in particular has been on a tear and could easily exceed 16 points by himself — something the freshman phenom has done with regularity this season. 

Against Oregon State’s slow tempo and matchup zone, Johnson, among others, should have plenty of opportunities to open up the game via the 3-ball. As a team, Arizona is shooting 36.3 percent from behind the arc on the season but shot just 23.5 percent against the Beavers. 

According to Miller, OSU’s matchup zone creates problems but can be countered with fluid ball movement from side to side. 

“Once in a while, the way the game goes not just for our team but just generally, you see that player pass fake to the open man as if he’s going to be more open,” Miller said. “I mean he’s open, pass it to him. Get rid of the ball. This is a two-game Segway where we have to move the [ball]. We have to move it, we have to take care of it, we have to have great teamwork to create good shots.” 

From Oregon State’s perspective, Gary Payton II will be the driving force to securing an even bigger upset over Arizona on Friday. Payton, son of legendary NBA player Gary Payton, put up an across the board performance against the Wildcats by registering 10 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block during the first matchup. 

Payton provided the offensive and defensive toughness that his father so often did during his tenure at Oregon State and in the NBA after that. Containing his all-around ability to control the game should be the top priority for Miller’s defensive gameplan, not only for the simple fact that he’s Oregon State’s best player, but also because the Beavers aren’t nearly as deep as one might think. 

When the ball tips Friday night, one thing is clear: Arizona will be ready for this revenge game.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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