Tonight, the No. 23 Oregon Ducks head to the McKale Center to take on the No. 12 Arizona Wildcats in one of the biggest Pac-12 games of the year. McKale Center is a hostile environment, with no road team coming out on top in the last 49 games.
Ahead of tonight's big matchup, I sat down and chatted with Matt Sheely of AZ Desert Swarm, our Arizona SB Nation counterpart down in Tucson. We discussed the tough environment, key players and possible outcomes.
McKale Center is perhaps the toughest place to play in the country, with Arizona winning 49 straight home games. For those of us who have never been able to experience a game there, what makes it such a tough place for a road team to walk out with a win?
As cliche as it sounds: The fans. They show up in droves, they're loud and, especially when opponents don't want to admit it, they can effect the game. Arizona has led the conference in average attendance for 31 straight years. Last year, they had 99.6% capacity for the season, best in the conference and 10th best in the nation. Next best in the Pac-12 was 82.6%. 49 in a row and counting is an amazing number. And it will end at some point, obviously. But when you have that much support from a home crowd and really talented teams, you should be winning your home games.
Who is the key player the Ducks will have to turn their focus to, and why?
I think the biggest thing Oregon will need help with is rebounding. Arizona has the third best rebounding margin in the country and that can be largely accredited to Senior transfer forward, Ryan Anderson. He's averaging a double-double with 14.9 points and 10 rebounds this year. If Oregon is going to win, they have to at least come close to winning the rebounding war, and that starts with shutting down Anderson.
Allonzo Trier, who is averaging nearly 15 points a game, is still out with a broken hand. How much do you see his absence affecting Arizona?
It depends. Right after the injury, in Arizona's two home games without Trier, they decimated both Washington schools and continued phenomenal offensive play, which had started with Trier in the lineup. It wasn't really until the California game this past night that you could see how much Trier was missed.
The big difference is, without him on the floor, they're down a man that can play great isolation offense, continuously attacking. It's up to the point guards, Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, really. If they spread the ball around and find the open man, Arizona will be fine. If the ball sticks and everyone has to create their own shot, they're going to wish Allonzo Trier was in there, big time.
Arizona has four losses so far this season, but those losses came by an average margin of 2.5 points. Has anything specific stuck out to you about why Arizona wasn't able to close out those tight games? What do you see happening if a similar scenario arrises against Oregon?
In the three conference losses, Arizona has put themselves in too deep of a hole and have had to make a comeback each time, only to fall short. They trailed by 14 at UCLA and 12 at USC late in the second half, only to lose those games by just 3 and 2, respectively. And most recently, they trailed by as much as 9 to Cal, including being down by 5 with only a minute left.They consistently battle back and put themselves in a position to win but if it weren't for putting themselves in those holes, they would be unbeaten in conference play.
One other issue that may have been revealed at Cal, is that they lack that one guy that can step up and hit a big shot in the closing moments. Most want to believe that, Senior guard, Gabe York, is that guy. But he nearly lost the ball out of bounds off his foot and then took a running, off-balance floater after letting the clock run down to 2 seconds. If Oregon jumps out to a big lead or if Arizona needs a shot at the end, the Ducks can walk away with a win.
The Wildcats beat Oregon three times last year by an average margin of 24 points. Do you see a similar outcome on Thursday night or will this one be closer?
The discrepancy in talent between these two teams is a lot smaller than it was a year ago. Also, Arizona's defense is not near as dominant or consistent as they were a year ago. So, no, I can't see this game going down like last year. I think this game will be a lot closer, though, I do still give the edge to Arizona because they're at home and because they're coming off a close road loss.