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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Shorthanded ‘Cats and Ducks expect a shootout

    Oregon at No. 21 Arizona

    The Arizona and Oregon men’s basketball teams share much in common: they were both expected to finish in the top tier of the conference – separated by two votes for third in the preseason media poll – are at their best playing small and have a key starter injured.

    Both teams also face an important game for different reasons Saturday at noon in McKale Center in a game televised by FSN, with the Ducks (9-4, 0-1 Pacific 10 Conference) trying to salvage a split of their first conference weekend and the No. 21 Wildcats (10-3, 1-0) aiming for a win at home before a tough four-game road trip.

    “”That’s the whole league,”” said UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill. “”If you’re going to win the league you’ve got to defend your home court. That goes without saying.””

    Oregon’s problems, meanwhile, start on the road, where the Ducks’ mix of struggles and high expectations, including a No. 12 preseason ranking, have led to three court rushes on them during their nonconference schedule before a 62-54 come-from-ahead loss at ASU Thursday in Tempe, their third defeat in four games.

    “”Big target’s been there,”” said Oregon head coach Ernie Kent. “”I think it kind of shocked them a little bit that Nebraska rushed the floor, (then) Oakland rushed the floor, and St. Mary’s rushed the floor. You’ve got to understand you’re a little different Oregon team right now.””

    When O’Neill checks the Pac-10 stats, he still sees a typical Ducks squad. After all, Oregon leads the conference in scoring (83.3 points per game) and 3-pointers made (104), shoots 50.1 percent from the floor (third Pac-10), grabs 38.9 rebounds per game (second Pac-10) and as O’Neill said has “”got guys at any position that can score at any time.””

    The Ducks start four players averaging at least 13.7 points per game, led by guard Malik Hairston’s 17.3 ppg, and had a fifth before forward Joevan Catron suffered a right foot injury Dec. 28 in a win over Mount St. Mary’s.

    “”To me they’ve lost some games, but I don’t think they’re really struggling,”” O’Neill said. “”Numbers-wise they look pretty good to me.””

    Countered Kent: “”Our numbers are good, but with us right now we’ve had a lot of games that kind of knocked us out of whack a little bit. It’s kind of where we were last year where we lost four out of six in that stretch of the season last year. We need to get back mentally.””

    With O’Neill definitively ruling guard Jerryd Bayless (sprained knee) out for the matchup, both teams are dealing with adjusting to life without a starter.

    While Bayless’ loss has made the Wildcats rely heavily on point guard Nic Wise for playmaking and forward Chase Budinger for scoring, losing the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Catron’s 10.8 points and 7.9 rebounds has hurt Oregon down low.

    In Catron’s first full game out against the Sun Devils, Kent played forward Maarty Leunen with a host of guards and nine minutes of forward Frantz Dorsainvil, who picked up four fouls in that time.

    “”With Joevan we lose point production, we lose the passion, and we lose a rebounder. We lose a lot with him,”” Kent said. “”With them they lose the point production (with Bayless), but I think they’re pretty good.””

    Without Bayless, Wise has logged 79 of 80 minutes the past two games, a total that figures to be similar on Saturday. Wise said it would be tough to do that going against 5-foot-6 guard Tajuan Porter, a small and quick player like himself, but he looks forward to playing what figures to be his type of game.

    “”That’s my style, up and down, push the tempo,”” Wise said. “”When teams slow us down I kind of struggle. K.O. says it’s going to be a track meet on Saturday, but he wants us to be the only team in a track meet, so we’re going to try to handle their fast break and their pressure.””

    What O’Neill means by that is he wants his team “”to comfortably control the tempo of the game whether that be fast or slow.””

    O’Neill has scoffed at the notion that he does not like his team to run just because he favors a more structured system than Lute Olson’s open approach, as O’Neill said he thinks his team runs well off misses and turnovers.

    “”If we have opportunities, we’re going to run, but we’re going to be an opportunity-break team,”” he said. “”We’re not going to just run down and shoot up quick shots. Hopefully we learned our lesson at Memphis by running down and trying to play up-tempo, run-up-and-down-the-floor, shoot-bad-shot basketball. We can’t do that very well, especially without Jerryd playing.””

    Kent, on the other hand, has no restrictions on when his team should run, as he said, “”I always think we could run more. If you look at our teams in the past we’ve been a lot faster, a lot quicker and a lot more opportunities up and down the floor.””

    In a game that could turn into an up-tempo affair with both teams matching up guards against guards, O’Neill said he’s worried about the Wildcats’ perimeter depth without Bayless.

    When Arizona went small during its second-half run against Oregon State on Thursday it used a small lineup that could often be duplicated against Oregon – with Wise, Budinger, guards Jawann McClellan and Daniel Dillon playing with a big, likely forward Jordan Hill, meaning all of the team’s perimeter players would be on the floor at the same time.

    McClellan also knows that Oregon’s high-octane offense might be too much to come back from if Arizona digs itself another big hole, as speeding the game up to beat the Beavers like the team did Thursday might not work as well against the Ducks.

    “”We come out with a great effort second half, maybe we need to act like it’s the second half at the start of the game, but we have to do something,”” McClellan said. “”We can’t get behind like that against Oregon and try to stride back.””

    And 1

    The last time Kent and his staff visited McKale Center came back in October when they joined a number of other college staffs in observing the training camp of the fast-paced Phoenix Suns, who play a style the Ducks always have under Kent.

    “”I thought that was a great opportunity for us,”” Kent said. “”It strengthened us in some things we want to do offensively in there. I think what that did for us was just reinforce our thought process on what we do offensively.””

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