Seniors and Freshmen will need to step up to beat No. 3 Arizona.
That is what is on the line Thursday evening inside Matthew Knight Arena. 6 PM and the No. 3 ranked Arizona Wildcats (14-0, 2-0) and the Oregon Ducks (12-2, 1-0) put their perfections on the line. Arizona is 14-0 and heading for a potential Final Four run. Oregon has won 16 straight games inside the friendly confines of Matthew Knight Arena and looking for a signature win.
Arizona has been on the end of big wins and close wins this season. The Wildcats have beaten three teams by three points or fewer and have also won an overtime game over Colorado after a terrible call that overturned a game-winning shot by Colorado.
This will be Arizona's first trip into Matthew Knight Arena despite the Ducks opening the building almost three years to the day. Arizona played the second-to-last game at Mac Court back in 2010 and will get their first taste of Matthew Knight. At Matthew Knight Oregon hasn’t won a game by fewer than 10 points all year.
There is a lot on the table for both squads.
While Arizona signed one of the nation's best classes last year the Wildcats are led by three seniors in Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, and Kevin Parrom. Lyons transferred to Arizona from Xavier to reunite with head coach Sean Miller and the senior has thrived in his new position at point guard. Lyons and has an average of 14.1 points and 3.1 assists per game while hitting multiple big shot after big shot. Hill is the steady face of the program and potential player of the year candidate averaging 13.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. Kevin Parrom returned from an injury and gunshot wound last season to become Arizona's glue guy who keeps everything together. Parrom can play guard or can slide down and play forward and because of that Miller can use a lot of different rotations. Parrom averages 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game in just 23 minutes.
Arizona is also deep with eight players averaging over 13 minutes a game but only one player plays over 30 and that is Hill.
For Oregon the Ducks lean on senior leader E.J. Singler. Singler has been waiting nearly four years for a game of this magnitude at home. He deserves to play in a game of this magnitude. He helped bring Oregon out of the ashes and back into respectability. Now he has a chance to put them into NCAA Tournament talk with a win. Seniors Tony Woods, Carlos Emory, and Arsalan Kazemi are all senior transfers who’ve helped restore order at Oregon.
But the Ducks also have a collection of freshmen who are key players this year but also the foundation for a program for years to come. Damyean Dotson leads the Ducks in scoring with 11 points a game while Dominic Artis is one of the best scoring guards in the Pac-12. He’s also a solid distributor and already an elite defender. Ben Carter sits behind a group of veterans at forward but has shown he can play when called upon. Thursday night Oregon’s vets will look to carry Oregon but their youth will look to push them into that winning column.
Will Singler be lethal from three? He might have to be.
Thursday sets up as one of Oregon's biggest games in the past few years and realistically their biggest game under Dana Altman era.
Sure the Ducks have had the Matthew Knight opening win against USC and there was the CBI victory over Creighton, or even a few NIT home games. But those games don't present the chance that Arizona gives the Ducks. A win over Oregon and the Ducks have a top-5 victory for the first time since Jan. 6th 2007 when Oregon knocked off No. 1 UCLA 68-66. Yes that win at UNLV this season was huge but only the win over UCLA back in 2007 with Ernie Kent as head coach is as big as this game.
A win tonight can be that victory that puts Oregon into the top-25. A win tonight can give Dana Altman that first major victory recruits will talk about. A win tonight will put Oregon in a prime spot to contend for the Pac-12 title early into the conference slate. Most importantly a win tonight could kickstart Oregon's fanbase back into basketball mode.
Tonight there is a lot on the line.