With its victory over Oregon State on Thursday, combined with Washington's victory over UCLA, Arizona has secured a share of the Pac-10 title for the first time since the 2004-05 season. UA will try for the outright title on Saturday when it takes on Oregon in a 12pm MST tipoff from McKale Center.
The Ducks are coming off what may be their worst loss of the season Thursday, when they were trounced by Arizona State by 20 points. Dana Altman's team is in the midst of a free fall in the conference standings, as it has lost three games in a row and four of its last six contests.
For the season, UO has posted a 7-10 in the Pac-10, good for eighth in the conference, and a 14-15 record overall. These two teams played a very non-competitive game on December 30th in Eugene, when Arizona started the conference season with a 76-57 victory over the Ducks.
Oregon's chance at victory has certainly gotten smaller with the loss of Jeremy Jacob. The 6-foot-8 junior has missed 12 games this season due to knee injuries, and he'll likely miss Saturday's game as well after missing the team's last four games. In the 17 games he has appeared, Jacob is averaging 6.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in 14.6 minutes.
Jacob will certainly be missed with the type of success he had in December against UA when he scored a team-leading 17 points and grabbed a team-high four rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. His absence leaves a big void for able bodies along the interior off the bench for OU.
Without Jacob, Oregon will need Joevan Catron to play a much better game than the one he did last time out against UA. The fifth year senior fouled out in just 11 minutes in the game in Eugene, and in his absence the Ducks are without a big time scoring threat.
The 6-foot-6 forward is the team leader in both scoring and rebounding at14.8 points on 48.9 percent shooting and 6.4 boards per contest. In a conference loaded with talented big men, Catron may go unnoticed but is definitely the best player on the roster for UO and will be relied upon to carry the load offensively.
Alongside Catron in the frontcourt is E.J. Singler, younger brother of Duke super senior Kyle Singler. The 6-foot-6 sophomore is a good side kick to Catron in the paint, as his 10.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in a team leading 29.7 minutes per outing both rank second on the team. He's also been efficient in his scoring, hitting 44.4 percent of his shots from the field.
Singler has had virtually no success in his three previous appearances against UA, as he's averaged just 3.7 points. He's not on Kyle's level, but E.J. has been proven to be a reliable player for Oregon and he'll be looking to get off the mat this time around versus the Wildcats.
Another player who will be looking to bounce back after a poor showing against UA last time out is Tyrone Nared, who failed to score and picked up four fouls in just 14 minutes in the December meeting.
With Catron and Singler operating as the go-to scorers in the post, Nared is not relied on for too much offensively, averaging just 5.5 points in 18.4 minutes per game. The 6-foot-8 transfer from Monroe College is however the team's third leading rebounder at 3.7 boards per outing.
Handling the ball for the Ducks is 6-foot junior Malcolm Armstead, who has taken a serious step backwards this season. Although his 4.1 assists per contest are tops on the team, that number is down from a year ago. Also, his eight points per game, which rank fourth on the team, are a career-low.
Last season, Armstead thrived playing behind Tajuan Porter as the team's second leading scorer. He's obviously struggled with the offense in his hands, and even though he's shooting just 30 percent from three-point range and 39.9 percent from the field overall, both career lows, he's the type of player who will occasionally post big numbers if left open.
Completing the starting lineup for Oregon is 6-foot-1 guard Garrett Sim, who like Armstead is struggling with his jump shot, as he's hitting just 33.6 percent of his three-point tries and 39 percent of his field goal tries on his way to 7.8 points per game.
Sim is however one of the best free-throw shooters in the Pac-10, as he connects on 86.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe. He's not a tremendous threat offensively, as he's averaged just 6.1 points in his past seven games.
Perhaps the best backcourt combination for the Ducks is two players that come off the bench. Of all Oregon players, Jay-R Stowbridge is playing the best basketball right now. In his past four games, the 5-foot-10 transfer from Jacksonville state is averaging 17 points, and overall for the season he's third on the team with 10.1 points per game.
Stowbridge has adjusted well to the Pac-10 game as the season has progressed, as his three-point field goal percentage is up to 35.3 percent, and his overall field goal percentage is up to a career high 40.4 percent.
He's playing great basketball right now, and as he continues to play well, he'll continue to post more minutes and play a larger role in the offense.
Teondre Williams has also been a spark plug off the bench, as he's the team's leading three-point shooter at 42.3 percent success from beyond the arc. Overall he's averaging just 4.9 points in 16.3 minutes per game. The 6-foot-4 junior cannot be taken lightly though, and if Sim and Armstead struggle, look for Williams to attempt to pick up the slack.
Freshman Johnathan Loyd will likely see time off the bench, but like most freshmen has struggled this season adapting to the college game The 5-foot-8 guard is connecting on just 29.3 percent of his attempts and 26.6 percent of his shots from three-point range; and he's averaging just 4.7 points in 19.9 minutes per contest.
Sean Miller said it in his press conference after Thursday's game, the proverbial monkey is off the Wildcats' back with a share of the Pac-10 conference title already in hand.
Chalk it up to nerves or a continuation of last weekend's debacle, but UA was definitely not as its sharpest on Thursday and likely would've struggled to win against a better team.
Nevertheless, there is something to be said for the fact that the Wildcats were able to shake off the poor shooting night and force Oregon State into an even poorer game offensively.
No matter how it was achieved, a win is a win. Look for Arizona to try to turn it around and get back on track offensively in order to end the regular season on a good note, to go along with an outright Pac-10 championship, heading into the Pac-10 tournament.