Rounds one and two between Arizona and Oregon were epic. In their first match up of the season, Oregon edged Arizona at the McKale Center on an Aaron Brooks runner with two seconds remaining. The deuce game the Ducks the 79-77 win. In their second game at Mac Arthur Court, Arizona returned the favor as Chase Budinger's 30-point performance led the Wildcats passed Oregon 77-74.
Tomorrow's game will be played in a truly neutral site for each team as they venture into the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Although both teams travel well, a crowd of less than 8,000 is expected.
The crazy fans waiving off free throw shooters from behind the basket won't be there. The fanatic in Row 5 who heckles the visitor's bench all game long probably won't be there either.
Only five points separated these teams in two games and today's game should be much of the same. Who will win? Please read on to find out.
In game one Budinger played the three and struggled, scoring only four points. In game two the freshman wing was moved to the two and thrived, scoring 30 points in maybe his most inspiring performance of the season. Mustafa Shakur was similar to Budinger in that in one game he played well while in the other things did not come so easy. The one constant in both games was Williams. Williams led the way with 34 points in a two point loss and then finished with 16 in Arizona's three point road victory. Arizona will need Williams to play well again as they'll need him to score along the baseline and in the key to keep the gambling Oregon defense at bay. Look for Budinger to drift out to the three point line to create floor spacing. More importantly, look for him to do so from the same side of the court as Radenovic to prevent Oregon from doubling down on the senior forward who is fresh off his career high 37 point performance against the Cardinal. Shakur will have an opportunity to shine but he'll need help from others. What I mean is Shakur gets himself into trouble when he gets ahead of his teammates and then has to pass backward. When Shakur gets dribble penetration, his teammates need to drop toward the basket with him to create passing lanes. If they do Shakur is great at finding the open man. If they don't Shakur struggles in regaining control after he's gone one dribble too far.
Like Arizona, Oregon has had balanced scoring in both games against the Wildcats. Leunen, Hairston and Bryce Taylor have been consistent while Brooks, after a great game one, was made to look human in game two. With Williams guarding him, the Oregon point man was held to just six points in 37 minutes. Oregon is a very quick team. In fact, they're much quicker than Arizona and they've used that quickness to their advantage in both games to create several mismatches. Oregon routinely was able to drive baseline against Arizona, especially in game two. Look for them to do the same again in Staples.
OFFENSIVE EDGE: EVEN
Both teams can fill the floor with scorers. Oregon will try and go small and use their quickness to get to the rim. Arizona will use their size to score over the Ducks in the mid-range game. There really is no advantage here. For every mismatch Oregon creates for Arizona, the Wildcats are able to create a similar mismatch on the other end of the floor for the Ducks. The game should be a see-saw affair so all we as fans can do is sit back and enjoy what should be a great game by two quality teams.
Arizona's Jordan Hill was limited against Oregon because when the Ducks went small, Hill was left with no one to guard. Coach Olson has hinted that Hill may see limited minutes today if the Ducks employ the same strategy. Olson also hinted that he may go deep into his bench again as he did last week in the Bay Area. This would certainly be the right team to do it against. First, Nic Wise and Fendi Onobun played a combined one minute in the first two games against Oregon so the Ducks won't be prepared for them. Second, Oregon's willingness to play an up tempo game will further benefit Arizona's bench players who are almost all much more comfortable with an up and down game than one played exclusively in the half court. Expect Arizona to play man-to-man most of the night as a zone just won't hold up against a Ducks team that has six players who can stroke it from deep.
Oregon mixed some zone with their man-to-man to try and trick up Arizona in game two. The Wildcats weren't fooled though as their starting frontline combined for 38 points to go along with Budinger's 30. In the neutral court environment expect Oregon to play mostly man in order to maintain focus. Oregon held a 10 point lead at halftime in game two and controlled most of the second half before Arizona finally scored to tie the game at 66. Oregon played strong defense throughout. The difference was that Arizona simply out executed them down the stretch by running their offense practically to perfection. Look for Oregon to pressure Shakur right at half court. Also expect them to try to deny passing lanes to the wings, forcing Arizona to enter their offense through Radenovic at the high post. While getting the ball in Radenovic's hands is a very good idea for Arizona right now, feeding him the ball from the point guard position is a terrible angle and one prone to turnovers. Oregon thrives off of steals and if they get enough of them, Arizona could be in for a long day.
DEFENSIVE EDGE: EVEN
The simple fact is that while both teams are good defensive teams, they're still far from great. Neither team is going to do anything too drastic to force the other into making some changes. Plenty of shots will be contested and missed, but plenty will be taken when wide open and will be made. Expect Williams to defend Brooks. The strategy worked in game two and may work again. Although Brooks is quicker, Williams is longer and can recover and contest shots simply be getting a hand up. Similarly, expect Oregon to pressure both Shakur and Budinger in an attempt to get them to play on their heels. If the two Wildcats can be assertive and aggressive with the ball, then they can create mismatches of their own and get some easy baskets.
To think this game won't be decided in the final two minutes would be crazy. These teams match up evenly in almost every statistical category, they play the same style, they're loaded with stars that have excelled in the clutch, and they're both coached by two fierce competitors.
The only foreseeable problem that would prevent this from being a close game is if Arizona, Oregon, or perhaps even both come out flat because of the neutral site conditions. The first half of the game could be a quiet one in terms of fan participation so how the teams react to playing in the bigger arena with a lesser crowd could be interesting.
Both teams are capable of making runs so don't be surprised if they take turns going for the knockout punch early before realizing that the other is not going to go anyway anytime soon. In the end, it will boil down to which team makes more shots on out of bounds plays following timeouts and changes of possession. Each has the horses to go the distance as well as the stars to make those big shots. In these situations, Arizona has one or two more options which will make it more difficult for Oregon to decide who to defend.
This slight edge, if I can even call it that, is what will propel Arizona to victory.
ARIZONA 76 OREGON 71