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January 12, 2013

No. 4 Wildcats may catch break at Oregon State

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For the first time this season, Arizona head coach Sean Miller will get to see how his team bounces back from a loss. Given the recent state of its opponent, that may not be too difficult.

The fourth-ranked Wildcats, whose perfect start to the season was derailed Thursday at Oregon, will attempt to start a new winning streak Saturday at Oregon State. Tipoff at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis is scheduled for 6 p.m. MT.

Arizona (14-1, 2-1 Pac-12 Conference) watched its good fortune run out in the 70-66 loss to the Ducks. After rallying late to stun quality opponents in recent weeks, the 'Cats were unable to erase a nine-point deficit in the final two minutes.

Trailing by 3, Nick Johnson's costly turnover with 11 seconds to play closed the door on the comeback.

"We obviously want to win every game, but we know it's not a perfect world," Johnson said. "It definitely hurts because we know we let one slip away with our defense and our execution and stuff like that."

Offensively, the 'Cats continued to struggle in halfcourt sets. UA is shooting 41.1 percent in three Pac-12 games - significantly lower than its 46.2 percent mark on the season.

It has been the same story on defense, too. Opponents are shooting just 40.3 percent, but Oregon, Colorado and Utah have combined to shoot 46.3 percent.

Among the areas of concern for the Wildcats the entire season has been the opposition's 3-point shooting, and the problem reached its highest point to date against the Ducks. Despite coming into the game as the league's third-worst team from beyond the arc, Oregon knocked down 7 of 11 from long range.

"Our defense has really slipped," Miller said. "From an offensive perspective - 14 turnovers - and there are times maybe that we didn't look as good, but we've won a lot of games this year with a similar offensive performance - or maybe even worse. It's just it has to be accompanied by hard play and defense."

The Beavers (10-5, 0-2 Pac-12), who allow a league-worst 68.7 points per game, may be just the springboard the Wildcats need to get back on track.

Sophomore forward Eric Moreland, the team's fifth-leading scorer and top rebounder, and seldom-used freshman guard Victor Robbins will not play. Head coach Craig Robinson suspended both players indefinitely for a violation of team rules following Thursday's 72-62 home loss to Arizona State.

Moreland is averaging a double-double this season with 10.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. In the Pac-12, he also ranks third in shooting percentage at 62.1 percent.

"You'll ask me 15 different ways and I'll give 15 different answers that it's a violation of team rules, and that's all I'll say for now," Robinson said. "I wish they weren't, but life happens to these young guys. As soon as I'm able to let you know how long they'll be suspended, I'll let you know. I believe they'll be able to practice. This all kind of happened right before the game.

"I know it's a big letdown for a player like Eric, who is a big part of the production of our team."

OSU hopes to avoid losing a fifth consecutive game in the head-to-head series and starting 0-3 in Pac-12 play for the first time in five seasons.

Its one ray of hope may be at the 3-point line. The Beavers rank second behind the Wildcats, converting 37.9 percent to UA's 38.5 percent. On defense, OSU has the conference's best mark (30.3 percent) while the 'Cats rank last (37.6 percent).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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