Oregon associate head coach Mike Dunlap is politely turning down most interview requests these days, but the Arizona Wildcats don't need to hear his words to know he's returning to McKale Center tonight.

He'll be speaking through the Ducks' 2-2-1 zone press, one of the same schemes the Wildcats used last season when Dunlap was their associate head coach.

And maybe - as UA guard Nic Wise did when he hit a three-pointer over that zone a month ago in Eugene - the Wildcats might respond with a friendly glare at their former coach.

"I've never been a pressing coach," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said, "and (Dunlap) has brought multiple presses to our package that has really given us some real positives that we can do to change the tempo of the game."

That was what Kent said last month. Now, the Ducks head coach is using even more zone than he was then.

"They were almost exclusively man-to-man, and now they're almost exclusively zone," UA coach Sean Miller said.

While Dunlap declined to be interviewed by the Star, here are five other things about his impact at Oregon:

He's there to help save Ernie Kent's job.

A few days after Oregon finished an 8-23 season that threatened his job last spring, Kent approached then Oregon AD Pat Kilkenny - who later told the Eugene Register-Guard he was undecided on whether to retain Kent at that point - to tell him he wanted to add Dunlap, who served under Russ Pennell last season.

According to Oregonian columnist John Canzano, Oregon power brokers and Nike executives had recommended the move to Kent, who had veteran assistants such as Greg Graham and Fred Litzenberger on previous staffs.

"It has not been weird at all," Kent told the Star last month. "I've gone through this before. If you get someone to look at everything we've been doing … he's almost like a consultant."

Dunlap told the Register-Guard he's been taking a careful approach at doing so, knowing that Kent is already well-established.

"I've watched him through the evolution of his program … and like my better assistants did for me when they reminded me of things from three years ago when you were good, I try to refer him back to himself," Dunlap said. "If I think that he is getting too much information, then I'll stay quiet.

"I have great empathy for that chair."

He's well-compensated.

Dunlap became the highest-paid assistant coach in the league - and signed an unprecedented $300,000 bonus - when he joined the Ducks on a two-year deal worth $400,000 per year. He was paid $375,000 by Arizona in 2008-09.

"Before I got that pay, I was in the boiler room for years and years and years," Dunlap told the Oregonian. "So just like ("Good to Great" author) Jim Collins would say, the flywheel spun, and it did spin for me."

He was initially envious of those Eugene runners.

Moving temporarily into a Eugene hotel last spring, Dunlap told the Register-Guard that it was "driving me crazy" to watch all the Oregonian runners whiz on by.

A runner for 31 years who once raced in a 100-miler through the Sierra Nevadas, Dunlap was initially sidelined with knee trouble that required two major surgeries. But he simply kept cross-training until he was healthy enough to run again.

" 'Never let yourself get out of shape' is what they say in physical terms," Dunlap told the Register-Guard. "I agree with that."

He's kept cool under pressure.

At 12-10 overall and 4-6 in the watered-down Pac-10 this season, the Ducks have yet to prove they are significantly better this season.

But in the midst of the Ducks' five-game losing streak last month, Dunlap told the Register-Guard:

"There will be some tremendous highs and some tremendous lows with this group," Dunlap said. "I see a team that's trying to find itself and create an identity of what works and what doesn't work."

Dunlap said he initially focused on building the Ducks' mental toughness upon his arrival but toned it down a bit when he realized how young the team was.

Guard Garrett Sim told the Register-Guard he noticed the difference.

"He's a pretty hard-nosed guy, and that was different for us when we first got around him," Sim said. "We adjusted and I think he's adjusted, too, with a little more of Coach Kent's style. It's working out pretty well."

Being under the gun is nothing new.

"Given the pressure of Arizona, given the pressure of the NBA, given the pressure of this … I have been around a lot of pressure," Dunlap told the Register-Guard. "My point is that I can be rather stoic about things because at this point, circumstances or outcome will not define who I am.

"I'm relentless on that point."

As it turned out, the Wildcats managed to reach the Sweet 16 last season despite having Lute Olson retire suddenly in October 2008.

The UA squeaked into the NCAA tournament field as a controversial No. 12 seed.

"People thought we were going to fall into the great abyss, and we did just the opposite," Dunlap said. "The other thing the (tournament) committee understood was that maybe the adversity we had was highly unusual compared to everybody else that was being considered. We were lucky to get in, but we took that luck and ran with it."

On StarNet: Follow the Cats on Bruce Pascoe's blog at go.azstarnet.com/pascoe


• What: Oregon at Arizona

• When: 8:30 p.m.


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)