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Oregon State Basketball: Opponent Preview - Arizona Wildcats (Game 16)

The Wildcats will be Oregon State’s toughest test of the season so far.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Wildcats (12-4)

  • Latest BTD Pac-12 Power Rankings: 1st Overall (11-3)
  • Head Coach: Sean Miller (9th Season)
  • Top Performer: Deandre Ayton (20.4 PPG, 11.6 RPG)
  • Points For: 83.8 PPG (29th)
  • Points Against: 72.7 PPG (T-194th)
  • Last Game/Streak: 80-77 Loss at Colorado (1L)

The Skinny

For a team that “can’t be reached” by head coach Sean Miller, seventeenth-ranked Arizona sure sits as an imposing opponent for Oregon State on Thursday night.

Of course, Miller was just publicly discussing his frustration with the squad when he recently ripped into his team for their inability at times to be coached. However, the truth of the matter is that the Wildcats are still a potential Final Four group, who needs to just hit their stride sooner rather than later.

It’s all simply part of the process for a program that’s averaged 31 wins over the past four seasons.

While it’s hard to tell which piece is most crucial for Arizona (as their depth chart is ridiculously deep and talented), it has been freshman phenom Deandre Ayton (20.4 PPG), who has emerged as the team’s star talent from the get-go. Ayton, who will likely be a top-three pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, has already put aside the notion that this is still a team that only revolves around guards Allonzo Trier (19.6 PPG) and Rawle Alkins (15.6 PPG). The imposing seven-footer from the Bahamas is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Behind the trio of Ayton, Trier and Alkins, a wealth of stand-outs make this team’s inconsistency all that more perplexing, as Miller has a nice blend of play-makers and role fitters that could fight for starting spots on many Pac-12 teams. Up-front, Dusan Ristic (10.3 PPG) has been the group’s lone consistent force not named Ayton, as bigs Ira Lee (3.0 PPG) and Keanu Pinder (1.6 PPG) have failed to find their footing. A similar situation is prevalent in the back-court as well, where behind stalwart Parker Jackson-Cartwright (7.6 PPG), excitable preseason contributors in Brandon Randolph (6.1 PPG) and Dylan Smith (4.9 PPG) have cooled off.

Yet in all, while the names are impressive, the odd thing about this Arizona squad is plainly how “un-Arizona” they look with one of the best rosters that Miller has ever had. Where is the hounding, in-your-face and imposing defense that the Wildcats have made a staple of their program? Where is the tenacious will to win that has made Arizona into the most feared team in the Conference of Champions for years?

While it’s unknown how much of the “issues” surrounding this group are a serious case of media hype or a sign of things to come, it’ll be the Beavers chance to catch this powerhouse while they’re dragging a bit on Thursday night. Can Oregon State muster one of their best road victories in the history of the program? If nothing else, it seems like the perfect storm for the Beavers to roll into Tucson and turn some heads.

For more on this match-up, check out our Q&A with Arizona Desert Swarm.

Players To Watch

Deandre Ayton (FR - Forward): The fear in this one is that Ayton could put the defensive pressure on Tres Tinkle and Drew Eubanks inside, meaning potential foul trouble for the Beavers duo. On offense and defense alike, there’s no singular presence in this contest more controlling that the seven-foot freshman.

Allonzo Trier (JR - Guard): Trier has spent a good amount of time as the focal point of the Wildcats, a characteristic that is beginning to slip towards Ayton as the big man continues to develop. Could those subtle changes be causing some of the growing pains for this group? Seems to be as likely of an answer to the questions as anything else.

Rawle Alkins (SO - Guard): Alkins getting back healthy and in the Arizona rotation helped this group tenfold, after their rocky showing in their early-season tournament. The 6’5” swingman has been pushing himself to be a more reliable piece on the boards as of late, while still carrying one of the bigger scoring and defensive workloads on the team.

Game Info

  • Date: Thursday, January 11th
  • Time: 6:00 PM
  • Location: McKale Center (Tucson, AZ)
  • Coverage: Pac-12 Network