Arizona has avenged one of its three losses this season. The fifth-ranked Wildcats will look to do it again against Oregon on Thursday night in Tucson, Ariz.
The Wildcats (19-3, 8-3 Pac-12) have won four consecutive games since the Ducks (13-9, 7-4) shot 53.1 percent and slammed Arizona 87-68 in Eugene, Ore., on Jan. 14.
In the two weeks since, Arizona swept Southern California and then-No. 5 UCLA at home and went 2-0 on a Washington road trip that included a 63-58 win over a Washington State team that had pulled off a shocking upset three weeks earlier at McKale Center.
Arizona’s last win — 95-72 over Washington in Seattle — was the Wildcats’ highest point total in a Pac-12 game this season.
“We were flowing and it was great to see,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “We hadn’t had a game like that in a while. We like where we’re at, but we’ve got that paranoid feeling where we know if we don’t bring it and play great we’re not going to be in a ballgame.”
Oregon has won four of its past five games, including a 68-56 victory over visiting Utah on Saturday. The Utes are fourth in the conference standings at 8-4, a half-game ahead of the Ducks, who play the top three teams in the league (UCLA, Arizona, USC) in the next two weeks.
As the Ducks try to continue their climb, it will help to have healthy big man N’Faly Dante, who dominated Arizona in the first meeting with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting and 10 rebounds. He missed Oregon’s win over Colorado last Thursday after tweaking a knee during warmups. The team played so well with Nate Bittle in the starting lineup that Dante was OK coming off the bench two nights later. He still scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 21 minutes on the floor.
“Just a class move,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said of Dante’s willingness to be a reserve after the victory over Utah. “Came up to my office this morning and (said), ‘Coach, I’m going to play, but start the same team. I’ll come off the bench. … He didn’t have to do that. One guy who’s really thinking about the team.”
Oregon had a plus-10 rebounding edge against Arizona last month, despite the Wildcats’ strength being big men Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo. Tubelis leads the Pac-12 in scoring (20 points per game) and rebounding (9.6). Ballo is averaging 15.6 points and is second in the conference with 9.1 rebounds.
Arizona guard Kerr Kriisa is hot, having hit 11 of 21 3-pointers in his past two games.
Oregon has three players vying for the team scoring lead: Will Richardson (13.6), Jermaine Couisnard (13.5) and Dante (13.0). Couisnard poured in 27 vs. Arizona in the first meeting.
It will be interesting to see how — if at all — Altman uses freshman 7-footer Kel’el Ware, a five-star recruit whose playing time has diminished.
After averaging more than 22 minutes per game before Jan. 1, Ware is playing 11 minutes per game thus far in 2023. And he didn’t play at all against Utah.
Oregon recently has had the upper hand in the series, winning eight of the past nine meetings — although Arizona took an 84-81 decision in Tucson last February.
–Field Level Media