After having a pair of close games in the opening weekend of Pac-12 play, Arizona will head to Eugene to take on Oregon. The Wildcats remain unbeaten on the season with two conference wins, but will be tested against the Ducks.
Arizona won both home games on the weekend in true “Cardiac Cats” fashion, rallying from a seventeen-point deficit to beat Colorado in overtime and allowing Utah to have a chance at tying the game with the last shot. The Wildcats survived, keeping a perfect 14-0 record intact and extending the McKale Center winning streak to nine games.
The Ducks also have a considerable win streak going at the new Matthew Knight Arena. The stadium is just two years old, but has already brought the team some good luck, as Oregon is coming into the game against Arizona with sixteen straight victories on it home court.
“I know that it’s going to be a great atmosphere,” Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller said. “It’s one of the best arenas in the country. Oregon invests quite a bit in their program. We know we are going into a great place and it’s going to be a great environment. No one has to tell us that going to Oregon is going to be a tough game. We know that.”
The home win streak for Oregon will be met by an Arizona team that has won six of the last seven against the Ducks, including three games at the former arena. Oregon broke a six game losing streak to the Wildcats last season in McKale Center with a 59-57 win in the only meeting of the year, but hadn’t beaten Arizona prior to that since the 2007-2008 season when the Ducks swept Arizona in two games that season.
Coaching Oregon is third year Head Coach Dana Altman. In his time at Oregon, the former Creighton coach has turned the program around, going 45-28 in his first two years. In his third year, he has the Ducks off to the races, winning twelve of the first fourteen games of the season with one loss coming in triple over time at UTEP.
“Dana Altman runs a great system on both offense and defense,” Miller said. “Coaching against him both at Creighton and Oregon, the experienced players in his program really benefit because they’re used to doing the same thing day in and day out and then from one season to the next.”
On the court, the Ducks are led by senior forward E.J. Singler. He has been a project in the making for Altman, steadily building his skills over the course of four years. He is averaging 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a night, being productive in a similar way that Solomon Hill has been for Arizona.
“Singler is a winner,” Miller said. “He’s tough and he plays the game really hard. He’s also a smart player. He is the beneficiary right now of playing for the same coach for his third year.
“You can tell that Singler has really mastered their way of playing the game and he impacts the game in so many ways. A lot like we utilize Solomon Hill, Oregon utilizes him.”
Singler may be the leader of the team, but he is a senior. Next season, there will have to be a new leader and freshman Damyean Dotson has been doing whatever he can to make sure he gets noticed. The guard leads the team in points scored with 165 total on the season (11.8 average). He is a tough quick guard and should match up with Nick Johnson fairly well.
“He’s explosive and very athletic and talented,” Miller said of Dotson. “He lets the game come to him and doesn’t force the action. For a freshman, that says a lot.”
Dotson isn’t the only freshman that is making noise for the Ducks. Dominic Artis has started every game of the season since he got to Eugene. He was a former teammate of Brandon Ashley’s at Findlay Prep in Nevada and was prepared for the college game right away. Artis stepped into the point guard role and has been productive. Not only is he scoring ten points a game, but he is also averaging over four assists.
Carlos Emory could get the start over Arsalan Kazemi, as the latter is slowly returning from a concussion that was sustained on New Year’s Eve. Both are somewhat interchangeable, though Kazemi is two inches taller. Emery is a 6-foot-5 forward that is getting just about 25 minutes of playing time a night. He is doing what he can with that time, averaging ten points and 4.5 rebounds.
Kazemi shouldn’t be counted out if he does not start because he still played 21 minutes in Oregon’s win over Oregon State on Sunday and should be good to go against the Wildcats. He isn’t the scorer that Emery is, scoring just 8 points a game, but is exceptional on defense and the boards. Kazemi has 33 steals on the season, tops in the Pac-12, and averages nearly ten rebounds per game as well.
“We’ve played against him two different times, when he was a freshman and sophomore at Rice,” Miller said of Kazemi. “He’s physical and one of the statistics that stands out to me is that he leads our conference in steals and he’s as big as he is. If you have a guy on your team that averages double figure rebounds and leads your conference in steals, that’s one exceptional player. He’s impacted their success a great deal.”
Senior transfer Tony Woods will occupy the final starting spot in the rotation. He went to Oregon from Wake Forest and has made an impact almost immediately. He has played in all fourteen games, starting all but one. Woods is the second highest scorer on the team with 10.8 per night, but only averages 3.7 rebounds despite his 6-foot-11 height. His experience could make him a quality matchup for Kaleb Tarczewski, but the freshman has been playing solid defense as of late.
One of the main bench players that has been a pain for the Wildcats at times is 5-foot-8 guard Johnathan Loyd. The junior backs up both Artis and Dotson, and should see some quality minutes against Arizona. His scoring has been down this year, but he is still a good three-point shooter that can make the Wildcats pay. His performance is one to watch as Arizona’s three-point defense has struggled at times this year.
The Wildcats will be making their third road trip of the season and it is going to be a tough game because Oregon is a solid team that is in the running for the Pac-12 title. Both teams should be NCAA bound at the end of the season and this game could go a long way in determining the best team in the conference.
One team has to come out with a streak broken. Arizona has already broken a few of San Diego State’s streaks with the win over it on Christmas Day. Now, the Wildcats will look to break the Ducks’ home court winning streak on Thursday night.