Arizona faces a major test against Oregon in Eugene on Thursday. The Ducks are 12-2 and are one triple overtime loss away from being ranked. They are coming off a 13-point road victory against rival Oregon State. Oregon dominated the second half of that game after trailing by six at the break.
The Wildcats and Ducks have played two common opponents with very different results. Oregon beat Northern Arizona by 10 points while Arizona walloped the Lumberjacks by 43 points. The Ducks also lost a heartbreaker at UTEP, a team the Wildcats spanked by 21 points. If these results were a legitimate indicator of a likely head-to-head outcome, Arizona would win in a blowout. However, the who-beat-who logic rarely seems to yield predictable results.
One thing for Wildcat fans to look forward to is the pace. Oregon is a high-scoring team that likes to get up and down the court in a hurry. After struggling against a plodding Utah club and a Colorado team that annoyingly milked the clock, Arizona may fare better in an up-tempo game.
The Ducks could be the most balanced squad in the country. Five players average double figures, so itís difficult for opponents to key on individuals. Oregonís leading scorer, Damyean Dotson, averages 11.8 points per game while the fifth-leading scorer, Dominic Artis, averages 10.1. The Ducks even have a sixth contributor, transfer Arsalan Kazemi, who puts up 8.5 points and nearly 10 rebounds per contest.
Oregon has size, talent, and a raucous home crowd that will be every bit as loud and obnoxious as the painted forest court the game will be played on. Of course, the Wildcats are a loaded team that can match-up well with anything the Ducks throw at them. The only thing that can stop Arizona is Arizona. The Wildcats have been inconsistent with perimeter defense, despite having a stable of talented guards. On offense, Arizona has been prone to damaging lulls. Even in victories against Florida and San Diego State, the Wildcats went cold for long stretches. Arizona is about to face its most hostile environment yet and may not be able to overcome such lapses.
Outlook: A strange feeling of unease has crept up and enveloped the Wildcat faithful this past week. Although Arizona boasts an unblemished 14-0 record, the team isnít playing its best basketball. Despite marquee victories against two top-20 teams, Arizona has the feel of a unit in need of another statement winóand they should have plenty of motivation to go out and get it.
Arizona isnít receiving any love nationally. Everyone wants the Wildcats to crash and burn, and worse, expects them to. Some of that is a result of the Colorado controversy, and some of it is due to self-important talking heads chomping at the bit to shout, ďI told you Arizona was overrated!Ē The disrespect is so tangible that the Wildcats actually dropped in the AP rankings this week. The team that passed them, Louisville, didnít pick up a significant victory. The rankings leapfrog wasnít a tribute to the Cardinals, but rather an overt declaration of Arizonaís perceived unworthiness.
If this doesnít get the Wildcats to play with a chip on their shoulders then nothing will. Arizona has been unintentionally given a wonderful giftóthe gift of being a disrespected underdog. When in the history of college basketball has an undefeated, top-5 team with incredible tradition been in such a position? The Wildcats canít rest on their accomplishments, as they have an entire nation of doubters to disprove.
The players read the headlines and they know what people are saying. The best response they can give will come on the court. Will the Wildcats slip into the mediocrity their detractors are predicting, or will they rise to the challenge and force the rest of the conference to feel their wrath? Itís time for the players to get fired up. Itís time for our entire fan base to get fired up. This is the same team with the size, talent, and depth we drooled over in the preseason. This is the same team that, a week ago, seemed primed to dominate the Pac-12 and contend for a number one seed. A statement win at Oregon would be a huge step toward achieving those goals and silencing the critics. Bring on the Ducks!