Round Three

College basketball…is there anything better? I have two words the sum up the beauty of college hoops, March Madness. If you're a college basketball junkie, like myself, you can't help but lose sleep over thinking about the excitement, upsets, and cheerleaders that college basketball brings. Wait, cheerleaders? Never mind…that's reserved for a different place and time.

In the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament the Wildcats of Arizona and the Ducks of Oregon square off for the third time this year. Arizona and Oregon split the season series with both squads winning on the road with the two games being decided by a combined five points. You can make a case that both teams played better than the other in the games that they lost, but we won't go there right now.

The Cats were led by two underclassmen the first two times these teams played. Marcus Williams led the Cats in the first meeting, scoring 34 points while grabbing 12 rebounds. Chase Budinger, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, led the Cats in the second game, scoring 30 points while pulling down 10 rebounds. These guys, obviously, will be very key for the success the Cats intend on having during the month of March.

The Ducks started off this season on a roll. They upset UCLA at home while beating Arizona on the road, which is quite impressive. However, over their last ten games, the Ducks are a modest 5-5. Coach Ernie Kent talked about them hitting a wall during that stretch, but like the Cats, they are riding a three game winning streak heading into Thursday's rubber match.

The book is out on the Ducks. They are led by senior guard Aaron Brooks while getting plenty of production from Tajuan Porter, Maarty Luenen, Malik Hariston & company, but when you compare their statistics to the Cats and their current seasons, these teams look awfully similar. According to assistant Josh Pastner, "We know what they do, and they know what we do." It's no secret what both teams will try to do during Thursday's contest.

The Ducks have five players who average in double figures in points, while the Cats have four and one, Jawann McClellan, who averages just below double figures at 9.8 ppg. Both teams love to get up and down the floor, so expect a high scoring game. The previous two games were played within the 70's, so it's entirely possible that this will be the theme again.

This game is huge in terms of seeding for the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Cats are projected to be anywhere from a 4 seed to a 9 seed, while the Ducks are projected to be anywhere from a 4 seed to a 10 seed. Again, another similarity between the two clubs.

StatFreak101's Keys to Victory: The easy thing to say would be for the Cats to continue doing what they've been doing during their three game winning streak, and the stretch of games where they've won six of their last eight. However, that's much easier said than done. The Cats must not give Oregon easy opportunities and second chances. They must limit those as much as possible as they can't afford to give guys like Brooks, Porter, Hairston, & Luenen easy chances and the opportunity to have a big day against the Arizona defense.

Turnovers and rebounding will play a large role in Thursday's game. Teams like Arizona and Oregon thrive and live on making their opponents make mistakes with the basketball while attacking the glass on both ends of the court.

However, my biggest key for Thursday's game will be the play of Arizona's bench. Coach Olson praised the bench on how productive they were against Stanford last weekend and even went as far as saying that it was a mistake that the bench was utilized more during the regular season. Guys like Nic Wise, Bret Breilmaier, Fendi Onobun, Daniel Dillon, and Mohamed Tangara could be key factors in Thursday's game. Plus, Jawann McClellan is expected to play, so that adds another body that Coach Olson can bring off the bench to spell the starters some minutes.

The Cats will be sporting new blue uniforms that Nike has released just in time for the tournament. Hopefully a change in uniform doesn't signify a change in the success that the Cats have recently had.

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