Up next for the Cats is 9th seeded Oregon State, who they have already beaten once this season.
When Oregon State left McKale Center on the chilly night in January, it left as a tired and broken team. After suffering a 103-101 loss to Stanford in four overtimes, the Beavers fell to the Wildcats 81-73 in another overtime game. Oregon State only won 4 games from that point until the end of February.
It was the last home stand of the season, against Colorado and Utah, that the Beavers finally got hot. They swept the weekend, setting themselves up with the 9th seed in the Pac-12 tournament. Their opponent: Washington State.
Oregon State battled throughout the entire game, making a late push that eventually got it to victory. It was only a five-point win, but it gave the Beavers new life. The victory was the first time that this team would prove the coaching philosophy that beating a team three times in a season is almost impossible.
Thursday, Head Coach Craig Robinson's team came out with fire and heart, pulling away from Pac-12 regular season champion Washington early. The Beavers led by 13 at halftime, but looked doomed after trailing late in the second half. The turning point of the game was an Ahmad Starks 3-pointer that pulled Oregon State within a basket.
After a couple of key plays, Oregon State pulled ahead. Then, there was a series of missed free throws between both teams that could have easily changed the course of the game. In the end, time ran out and Jared Cunningham was able to make a few free throws, giving the Beavers just enough to pull off the biggest upset in Pac-12 tournament history.
Oregon State is led by 6-foot-4 junior guard Jared Cunningham. The 194-pound high flyer had 22 points against Arizona this season and added 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. Cunningham is definitely a playmaker and has given Arizona trouble the last two years.
However, the question for this game will be his conditioning. The junior is playing his third game in as many days and played all forty minutes against Washington on Thursday. If Arizona can get an accelerated pace, Cunningham may see his play drop off in the second half.
Running the point guard duties for the Beavers is 165-pound sophomore Ahmad Starks. The 5-foot-9 guard had 14 points against the Wildcats to go along with a team-high 3 assists and a steal. Starks was all over the floor in his 30 minutes and played good defense, making the Arizona guards work.
At the small forward position is 215-pound Devon Collier. The 6-foot-8 sophomore didn't start in Tucson, but came off the bench logging 28 minutes and tallying 11 points in the process. Collier grabbed 7 boards, 2 of them on the offensive end and had a good game overall, filling out his stat sheet with 2 assists and 2 steals.
Playing power forward for Oregon State is 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman Eric Moreland. The 215-pound Moreland wasn't a superstar in his 34 minutes in McKale, but did his job and was a vital part of keeping the Beavers in the game. He only had 6 points, but made up for it with 10 rebounds and 3 assists. Moreland also had a decent game on the defensive end, stealing 2 balls and blocking 2 shots.
Filling out the starting five is 242-pound Angus Brandt. The 6-foot-10 center is a pivotal piece of Oregon State's offense. Brandt had 7 points and 6 rebounds against Arizona and also assisted on two buckets.
Brandt is the type of player who can be on the court all game and go unnoticed, but he can also have games where he is the keystone of the offense. He can step out and hit a three and he can score on the inside.
First off the bench will likely be 280-pound forward Joe Burton. The 6-foot-8 junior has had a decent year this season. Burton had 8 points against the Cats, but it was an underachieving game for him. He only had 3 rebounds and it was a night he would like to have improved on. Coming in as a sub, he will be tough to stop.
Backing up the guards will be the freshman, Challe Barton. The 6-foot-3 Barton only played 9 minutes in the first matchup, going scoreless, but will give Starks a rest if he needs it. The freshman did have 2 assists, showing that he isn't just taking up space. He may not be a factor in this game, but should improve and be a threat in the coming years.
Another backup big man is senior Kevin McShane. McShane, 6-foot-9, 240-pounds, is the only senior on the team and doesn't play very much, just 4 minutes in Tucson. He did have a free throw, but didn't get to do too much else as he was only in to give short breaks to the main players.
One role player who is questionable against Arizona is sophomore guard Roberto Nelson. He played 20 minutes against Arizona the first time, scoring 4 points and pulling down 5 rebounds. However, he played just one minute against Washington yesterday, while nursing an injured right hand. The guess here is that he plays, but nothing is official yet.
Playing a third game in as many days is never easy, but winning that game is even harder. Oregon State is playing with emotion and heart and riding the momentum of its 4-game winning streak.
Arizona is coming off a game that it was supposed to lose, just like the Beavers. The Cats faced adversity, and pulled out a victory with their own version of emotion and heart.
Both teams are coming off big wins and will be looking to punch their ticket to the Pac-12 Championship game. Their only meeting so far ended in an overtime thriller. This time, it's win or go home. It is March; expect madness.