It’s been 12 seasons since Arizona finished unbeaten at home. Accomplishing that feat this season would guarantee the 18th-ranked Wildcats at least a share of their first Pac-10 title since 2004-05.
Facing a struggling Oregon State would seem to help Arizona move a step closer to that crown, but the Beavers have proved difficult to beat in recent matchups.
The Wildcats will try to remain atop their conference by snapping a three-game skid to Oregon State on Thursday night.
An eight-game win streak seemed to put Arizona in good position to end its title drought, but back-to-back losses dropped the Wildcats (23-6, 12-4) into a tie with UCLA atop the Pac-10. Arizona completed an empty weekend in Los Angeles with its most lopsided loss of the season, 71-49 to the Bruins on Saturday.
Arizona shot a season-worst 31.5 percent in that defeat and was outrebounded 40-26. The Wildcats, the second-best scoring team in their league (76.6 ppg), averaged 53.0 points on 33.6 percent shooting in those losses.
Arizona, though, will play its final two regular-season games at the McKale Center, where it’s 15-0. The Wildcats last finished unbeaten at home in 1998-99, going 14-0.
“We have two home games left and we have to get the job done,” center Kyryl Natyazhko said.
Oregon State (10-17, 5-11) heads into Tucson having lost 11 of 14 since a thrilling 76-75 home win over Arizona on Jan. 3. Joe Burton’s basket in the lane with 28 seconds remaining helped the Beavers hold off the Wildcats.
Oregon State claimed its first victory in Tucson in 27 years last February but has dropped nine straight on the road since its lone win there this season, 84-74 at Howard on Nov. 27.
“We’re going to have to play really good defense,” coach Craig Robinson said. “I thought we got away with (Arizona leading scorer Derrick) Williams having a bad day at the foul line the last time we played them. That’s not going to happen again.”
Wildcats coach Sean Miller said Robinson’s 1-3-1 zone has been effective against his team in previous matchups. Miller said the Beavers don’t use that defense as much this season as they did the previous campaign, but he expects them to see it Thursday.
“Their 1-3-1 has really bothered us,” Miller said. “I anticipating they’ll play it a lot against us because they’ve had success against us. It’s one of the many factors that will play into Thursday’s game is our ability to get shots against that (defense).”
Williams, second in the Pac-10 in scoring (19.1 ppg), hasn’t experienced too many problems against the Beavers, having averaged 16.3 points on 68.0 percent shooting in three career matchups. He scored 16 in the loss at Oregon State but went 3 for 10 from the line.
Lamont Jones scored 20 for Arizona, while Oregon State’s leading scorer Jared Cunningham (13.8 ppg) had 17 and Calvin Haynes tallied 18.
That game marked only Arizona’s fifth loss in 23 meetings with the Beavers. The Wildcats lead the series 51-20 and hold a 28-6 edge in Tucson.
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