Preview: With plenty still to play for, Oregon welcomes Arizona schools for heavy-weight weekend series
Oregon returns to action this week after getting swept in LA and will host the Arizona schools in the Ducks’ last homestand of the year.
Oregon (17-10, 7-7) hosts Arizona State (19-7, 7-7) on Thursday before facing conference-leading No. 14 Arizona (21-6, 11-3) on Saturday. As of Thursday, the Sun Devils and Wildcats are the only two Pac-12 teams that are locked to for the NCAA Tournament, and while Oregon did lose both games during its SoCal trip, the Ducks are playing some of their best basketball of the season. Come the Pac-12 Tournament in two weeks, and these could be three of the teams fighting for the conference tournament title and an automatic bid for an NCAA Tournament berth.
First up is Arizona State, who the Ducks have already beaten once this year. After entering Pac-12 play 12-0 ranked as the No. 3 team in the country, the Sun Devils have struggled to replicate that early season success. They dropped three of their first four conference games and while they have brought their conference record back to .500 since then, their recent loss to Arizona bumped the Sun Devils out of the AP Top 25 completely.
Still, the Sun Devils success this season is no fluke. They lead the conference in scoring at 84.4 points per game, led by the hot shooting of veteran guards Tra Holder (19.3 points per game on 37 percent shooting from three) and Shannon Evans II (16.8 points per game on 38 percent from deep).
Revenge is sure to be on the minds of Arizona State as well since Oregon handed it its first home loss of the season back on Jan. 11 when the Ducks rallied from an 11-point deficit for a 76-72 win. Conference tournament implications are also on the line with the Ducks and Sun Devils currently tied for seventh place in the conference. The top four teams get first-round byes in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Things only get harder on Saturday when the always dangerous Wildcats arrive for their only trip to Eugene this season. Arizona is coming off two quality wins against USC and Arizona State after losing the two games prior to Washington and UCLA.
Sean Miller’s squad boasts one of the most talented rosters in the country highlighted by three potential NBA players (Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier, and Rawle Alkins) one of whom, Ayton, could very well hear his name called first overall in the NBA Draft in June.
Those three carry the load offensively for Arizona, accounting for more than 52 of the 82 points the Wildcats average per game. Ayton (19.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game) anchors the paint while Alkins (13.4 points per game) and Trier (19.6 points per game on 43 percent shooting from deep) headline Arizona’s dangerous perimeter players that make 39 percent of their 3s.
Defensively is where Arizona leaves some to be desired. While they do post a conference-best scoring margin of plus-9.8 points, the Wildcats are eighth in field goal defense and ninth in 3-point defense. They often fall focus all their energy on the offensive end, which usually works in their favor, but leaves them vulnerable on off-shooting nights.
The Arizona schools will surely provide some added motivation for a Duck team fighting to for its tournament life.
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris
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