Editor’s note: Tyler Hansen is Tucson native, Arizona grad, and longtime Wildcats fan. From time to time, he will share his insight and thoughts about OSU/UA basketball and football games on TOCR. In his spare time, Tyler enjoys Yankees baseball, his dumb dogs, and making fun of hippies.
UA player to watch: Stanley Johnson
After being the sloppy SOB who let Langston Morris-Walker waltz down the lane for the game-winning layup in Gill earlier this month, the freshman Johnson has been playing the best basketball of his life. He’s averaging 17.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in the five games since the Beavs trumped Arizona. He’s shooting 50 percent from the floor, and he’s been aggressive — getting to the free throw line more than six times per contest (and making FTs at an 84 percent clip). More importantly for Arizona, the 6-foot-7, 245-pound wing has been a more committed defender since getting burned in Corvallis.
UA strengths: Playing at home, rebounding, defense
Protecting homecourt is something OSU hoops fans know well this year. But few teams can match the home success of Arizona, which has won 33 straight games at McKale Center. And the Beavers do not typically fare well in Tucson: They’ve lost 30 of their last 31 against the UA in the desert dating to 1983, with the lone win coming in the 2009-10 season.
Listing rebounding and defense as strengths for Arizona might look puzzling because OSU beat the Wildcats on the boards 32-26 AND shot 52 percent in their Jan. 11 upset victory. Nonetheless, the UA has a lot of size inside and typically dominates opponents on the glass, and defense is this team’s calling card.
UA weaknesses: Outside shooting, post defense
The Wildcats shoot a respectable 36.2 percent from three-point range, but they don’t make threes with consistency. That’s why Wayne Tinkle’s use of a zone defense was so effective the first time these teams played; he dared Arizona’s shooters to beat the Beavs with outside jumpers, and the Cats went 4 for 17 from deep. Expect more zone from OSU.
The oft-offensively challenged Beavs also exploited the UA’s primary defensive weakness, which is that starting post players Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski can’t prevent their man from scoring in isolated situations. The UA will probably send help more defense in these iso situations, which could open up some outside shots for Olaf Schaftenaar.
X-factor for UA: Elliott Pitts
The sophomore shooting guard has been abysmal in Pac-12 play thus far. He has made just 5 of 19 threes (26 percent) in conference games after being lights out (52 percent) from deep in nonconference games. If Arizona wants to force OSU to play the Wildcats’ superior athletes one-on-one, it needs Pitts (among others) to hit a couple treys early on to bust the zone.
Game prediction: Arizona 67, Oregon State 49
The Beavers have far (FAR!) surpassed everyone’s expectations this season, and they aren’t done giving opposing teams headaches. Alas, these spry, inspiring kids from the Willamette Valley have yet to prove themselves on the road, and it just won’t happen this time in Tucson. Expect OSU to make Arizona earn every one of its points the hard way, but also expect the Wildcats to be hungry for payback.