After each school struggled through a rough portion of its schedule, Oregon and Arizona are both riding three-game winning streaks heading into their quarterfinal matchup in the Pac-10 tournament on Thursday at Staples Center.
The 16th-ranked Ducks (23-7, 11-7) and the Wildcats both appear to be locks for the upcoming NCAA tournament, but can also improve their seedings with a run in the conference tournament.
The two programs tied for third place in the Pac-10, and split two meetings this season as each team won in dramatic fashion on the road.
Oregon upset then-No. 10 Arizona 79-77 on Jan. 11 when senior Aaron Brooks hit a bank shot over two defenders with 2 seconds left. Brooks, the Pac-10’s leading scorer at 18.0 points per game, scored 21 in that game but was awful in the rematch on Feb. 10.
He finished with six points on 2-of-14 shooting, and the Wildcats overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to beat the Ducks 77-74 on Ivan Radenovic’s go-ahead jumper with 6 seconds left.
Oregon and Arizona (20-9, 11-7) were both slumping when they lost to each other this season, but have gotten back on track.
The fifth-seeded Wildcats lost six of eight games from Jan. 6-Feb. 1, but have since won six of eight.
The fourth-seeded Ducks lost six of eight from Jan. 25-Feb. 17, but beat rival Oregon State 70-49 on Saturday to close the regular season with three straight wins.
“We got some momentum these last three games,” Brooks said. “Now we’re clicking again.”
Brooks scored 18 points against the Beavers and Maarty Leunen added 14 while grabbing 10 rebounds. Leunen had 31 points and 21 boards in two games against Arizona.
Brooks, named to the all-Pac-10 team on Monday, is averaging 21.3 points and shooting 47.6 percent from 3-point range during Oregon’s three-game win streak.
Another key to that stretch has been improved play at the defensive end. Those three games have seen the Ducks hold opponents to an average of 64.3 points while forcing 42 turnovers and making 22 steals. In the previous three games—all losses—Oregon allowed an average of 76.0 points and forced only 27 turnovers, 13 off steals.
“We are probably playing at our peak right now heading into the Pac-10 tournament, but we still have work to do,” coach Ernie Kent said.
The Wildcats enter the Pac-10 tournament with their 20th straight 20-win season, the longest active streak in the country. They also are 15th in the latest RPI rankings in addition to its No. 2 strength of schedule.
“It shows we did not play any cupcakes, which goes to show how (coach Lute Olson) runs his program,” Arizona forward Marcus Williams said.
The Wildcats blew a 20-point lead in Saturday’s regular-season finale, but managed to defeat Stanford 85-80 in overtime thanks to an outstanding performance from Radenovic.
Radenovic scored six of his career-high 37 points in the final two minutes of overtime, and finished 12-for-18 from the field with nine rebounds and seven assists—all without committing a foul or a turnover in 44 minutes.
“Radenovic probably played as good a game as we’ve had out of anyone for … forever,” Olson said. “Look at his defense, his rebounds, his shooting, his assists. I don’t know if you can have a better line than he did.”
Arizona forward Chase Budinger was named Pac-10 freshman of the year on Monday, and had very different results in two games against Oregon. He had 30 points and 10 rebounds in the Wildcats’ win, but had a career-low four points in their loss.