Oregon St.-Arizona Preview
Minus a key contributor, Arizona never expected moving on from its first defeat to be easy.
After the second-ranked Wildcats barely bounced back from that setback, they'll look to extend their home winning streak to 19 games while trying for a sixth consecutive victory over Oregon State in Sunday's Pac-12 matchup.
Arizona (22-1, 9-1) overcame 40.0 percent shooting to win 67-65 over Oregon on Thursday. It was the Wildcats first game since last Saturday's 60-58 loss at California, and without starting forward Brandon Ashley (11.5 points, 5.8 rebounds per game), who suffered a season-ending foot injury in the defeat.
"Post-Brandon, we are moving towards figuring out who we are going to become to be the best team we can," coach Sean Miller said. "To be able to do that and have a hard earned victory, confidence is everything.
"It allows us to maintain a level of confidence moving into the next game. Which I hope we can improve, and be even better against Oregon State."
Despite shooting 4 of 16 from 3-point range, missing 16 free throws and being outrebounded 40-35, the Wildcats forced some key turnovers late and held Oregon to 2-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc in the second half.
"Our defense down the stretch is what we rely on," said leading scorer Nick Johnson, who had a team-high 18 points. ''We have all year."
While the Wildcats rank among the national leaders in scoring defense (57.2 points per game) and defensive field-goal percentage (37.8), they've shot 37.0 percent overall and 27.3 percent (15 for 55) from beyond the arc in their last four games. Johnson (16.2 ppg) bounced back from a season-low four points at Cal, but has shot 6 of 30 and missed all 10 3-point attempts in the last two contests.
"We just have to stay together and get after it more," said freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds while starting for Ashley on Thursday.
Arizona has been on top of its collective game while shooting 47.4 percent during a five-game winning streak over Oregon State (13-9, 5-5), in which the last two came by double-digit margins. However, the Wildcats needed overtime to win 81-73 in the Beavers' last visit to the McKale Center on Jan. 12, 2012.
A loser in two straight and six of seven on the road, Oregon State faces another difficult challenge while trying to rebound from an 86-82 overtime loss at Arizona State on Thursday.
"This is going to be hard but every game is hard in this conference," Beavers coach Craig Robinson said. "There are no easy nights off, especially on the road. You almost have to play a perfect game to win on the road. Now we have to go down and play the No. 2 team in the country who is going to be really good. It's never ending."
Averaging a Pac-12 leading 22.0 points, Oregon State guard Roberto Nelson scored all but two of his 26 after halftime against the Sun Devils. Nelson, however, has never scored more than 19 in six career games against the Wildcats.
Oregon State has never beaten a top 5 team in a true road setting, and dropped nine straight to such an opponent since a 70-69 overtime home win over then-No. 3 Arizona on March 2, 2000.