Though Arizona already clinched the Pac-12 regular-season title, it’s poised to not lose any momentum heading into the conference tournament and beyond.
Looking for a sixth straight win, the visiting third-ranked Wildcats must remain focused during Saturday’s regular-season finale against a surging Oregon squad that can further boost its NCAA tournament resume with a seventh consecutive victory.
Arizona (28-2, 15-2) secured its first league title in three seasons with a 79-66 win Sunday over Stanford, then had to work for a 74-69 victory at Oregon State on Wednesday.
"We want to finish this season out as strong as possible," said leading scorer Nick Johnson, who had a career-high 25 points against the Beavers. "We don’t want to take an ‘L,’ and not play hard, because that carries over to the next game.
"We have ourselves a little momentum going here."
Arizona shot 42.1 percent Wednesday, its worst effort in five games since making 35.9 percent during the 69-66 double-overtime loss at Arizona State on Feb. 14. The Wildcats were also outrebounded 43-34, but recorded 21 points off 17 Oregon State turnovers.
The large rebounding disparity didn’t sit well with Arizona coach Sean Miller, whose team ranks first in the Pac-12 with 39.0 boards per contest. Oregon State is tied for 10th at 34.5 per game, but became the sixth opponent this season to outrebound the Wildcats.
"I would put (Oregon State’s) physicality, their size, against any front line in the country," said Miller said. "To be outrebounded on the road and still win, we’ll take it.
"This is a reminder that in March, teams are desperate."
Oregon (21-8, 9-8) can fit that description.
Ranked 10th while starting 13-0, the Ducks lost eight of the next 10 before winning their previous six. Mike Moser had 22 points with 17 rebounds for his third straight double-double in Oregon’s 85-78 win over Arizona State on Tuesday.
"We’re trying to play on that type of level, like it’s an NCAA game right now," Moser told the school’s official website. "We just want to keep playing as if we’re not in the tournament, keep fighting."
Averaging 19.0 points in five games and 16.3 boards in the last three, Moser is one of seven seniors the Ducks will honor Saturday.
Oregon snapped a three-game home skid to then-No. 4 Arizona with a 70-66 win last season, but couldn’t make the Wildcats pay for a 40.0-percent shooting effort during the 67-65 road loss Feb. 6.
Coming off its initial defeat of the season and playing its first game since losing starting forward Brandon Ashley to a season-ending foot injury, Arizona was outrebounded by five, went 4 of 16 from 3-point range and missed 16 free throws. However, it held the Ducks to 2-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc in the second half and outscored them 32-24 in the paint overall.
"We all owe Arizona something," Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
"You got to be careful," he added. "Arizona is used to being in this situation; they’ve been in this situation all year. We’ve had our backs against the wall all year. This is one that’s a little different for us, but our guys will be OK."
Johnson (16.3 points per game), who has scored at least 20 in three of the last four games, had 18 versus Oregon last month despite shooting 5 of 16 and missing all five 3-point attempts.
The Ducks are 0-2 against ranked opponents this season but will try for a third straight home victory over a Top 25 team.