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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Showdown in Eugene: Ducks battle Wildcats for conference supremacy Saturday

Kyle Hansen

Arizona men’s basketball guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (0) dribbles past Oregon defense during Arizona’s 80-52 win against Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament Championship Game in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on March 14, 2016.

EUGENE, Ore.– The No. 13 Oregon Ducks go into Saturday’s matchup as the defending conference champion, Arizona is looking to reclaim that throne. It is a classic battle of two teams, perfectly suited to play one another, in a pseudo-Pac-12 Title bout.

In one corner is Oregon, the program that has soared to the top of the conference in recent years, still looking for the national respect it so desperately craves. In the other corner is the conference lynchpin, the gold standard by which all others in the Pac-12 compare themselves, Arizona. This game is not for the weak of heart.

“Players, they know when they’re in a game filled with other really good players,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller.

The Ducks come in second in the conference in scoring margin at plus 14.9, second in assists and third in 3-point field goals made. However, they are much more than that because defensively the Ducks are just as good. Oregon is the leader in blocked shots and field goal percentage defense, so Arizona will have their hands full.

Arizona, on the other hand, is just as good, a mirror image if you will. The Wildcats lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense, 3-point defense and defensive rebounding. While they may not wow in the offensive category, the Wildcats are as dangerous a team on the offensive side of the ball compared to any other team in the country since the return of Allonzo Trier.

Last season Oregon ventured into Tucson and knocked off the Wildcats in McKale, snapping Arizona’s 49-game home winning streak. The Ducks also bested Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament as senior Mark Tollefsen was unable to convert two free throws to win the game, giving Oregon an opportunity to win in overtime, which they did. This game provides Arizona with a chance at payback as Oregon currently has a 39-game winning streak and a Wildcat win would essentially take away any hope for back-to-back Pac-12 regular season championships for the Ducks. So two birds?

Both teams are coming off a rough stretch of games, comparatively to their standards, and are looking to get back on track with a big win in Matthew Knight Arena. Oregon got by Utah, but then stumbled on the road in Boulder as the Colorado Buffaloes beat the Ducks easily at the Coors Event Center. Oregon followed up that loss with a close win Thursday over Arizona State as Senior Dillon Brooks needed some last second magic to narrowly escape the Sun Devils.

“ASU did a great job. I think that ASU, because of the way they play, they’re small and they’re really skilled they matched up really well with Oregon,” Miller said. “You know sometimes Oregon does that to the other team where sometimes they’ll put Dillon Brooks at the four and they’re really hard to deal with on offense, but it was almost like two teams trying to do the same thing. The guards from Arizona State played a very very good game.”

Despite not losing in conference play, Arizona has suffered through a similar stretch. In games against Washington State and Washington, Arizona looked tired, lacked sharpness and was s step slower than the previous week when they upset No.3 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. Thursday night’s first half against the Oregon State Beavers was no different. Trailing by two points at the half the Wildcats finally snapped out of whatever funk had set in and beat the Beavers by 17 with ease.

“Watching us in the first half against Oregon State we had a number of offensive opportunities that we didn’t convert on,” Miller said. “…For 20 minutes it was a tight game. But in the second half some of those same shots we converted, our defense picked up a little bit and we ended up doing a pretty good job.”

If Arizona wants to complete an Oregon sweep it will have to contain the Ducks emotional leader and go-to guy Dillon Brooks. As evidenced against ASU, Brooks can and will hit big shots with the game on the line. In addition, Brooks penchant for extreme flopping can be a concern within the game and Arizona will have to recognize that going in.

“He’s the emotional leader of his team and they feed off of him,” Miller said. “I think the bigger the game the bigger the moment in the game he rises to the challenge, and he rises to the challenge and that’s to his credit. You know sometimes the game within the game you just have to be careful that you’re smart, and that you don’t get lured into maybe committing a cheap foul, or get your mind off your task at hand. There is a lot of really good players just like Dillon Brooks, that’s what makes them good, he’s got a really great mentality.”

The game tips off from Matthew Knight Arena at 2 p.m.

Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.

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