EUGENE, Ore. - If there's such a thing as a must-win game in mid-January, Arizona is playing it today.
A loss to Oregon today would set the Wildcats back to 8-10 overall and 2-4 in the Pac-10, with a 26th straight NCAA tournament all but toast - unless they win the rest of their regular-season games or the Pac-10 tournament.
They would also have a full week to stew over it before a Jan. 23 game at ASU in which the surging Sun Devils will be expected to beat the Wildcats for a sixth straight time.
But, so far this season, UA has made a habit out of winning the second game in a Pac-10 weekend, with a victory at UCLA after a loss at USC, and a resounding home win last weekend against Washington after a heartbreaking loss to Washington State.
Guard Nic Wise says he's ready to do it again, after the Wildcats lost 67-64 at Oregon State on Thursday.
"We're going to have to," Wise said.
Here are five reasons why the Wildcats could do it for a third week in a row:
More than half of the Wildcats' traveling party is new this season, but there's a history on their side: Arizona often pulls out games it desperately needs on Oregon's home floor.
The Wildcats swept Oregon and Oregon State on the road last season, a trip that ultimately put the UA in the NCAA tournament field. They also won a gritty 77-74 game in 2006-07, when Oregon's Aaron Brooks was called for charging against the UA's Mustafa Shakur with three seconds left, which also helped them stay inside the NCAA tournament bubble.
Overall, Arizona has won five of its past seven games at McArthur Court.
Thanks in part to a nonconference schedule that had the UA flying to Maui eight hours after a game with Rice, edging Colorado the morning after an overtime night game against Wisconsin, and beating up respectable Louisiana Tech just two days after being blown out at Oklahoma, the Wildcats know how to come back.
"It's almost as if our schedule has unfolded to represent what the Pac-10 is like," UA coach Sean Miller said.
As they do after all initial games of a two-game set, UA coaches spent Friday morning going over the OSU game, emphasizing both the positive and the negative, then went into Oregon preparation. Miller said the mood was good, too.
"We talk about moving forward, having a great day and having a good practice," Miller said Friday, after the Wildcats practiced at McArthur Court. "If you'd watched us practice today, you probably would have thought we'd have won."
Oregon averages 76.4 points a game, which is fine with Arizona. The Ducks play a style much like Washington, which Arizona beat by 17 points, except that Oregon has 6-10 Michael Dunigan in the middle.
The Wildcats average 72.4 points and are 5-0 in games in which they reach 80 or more points, clearly more comfortable running themselves.
"They play a lot like us," Wise said. "It should be a fun game to play in and watch."
In the Wildcats' three games to start a Pac-10 weekend, forward Jamelle Horne is averaging 9.3 points and 3.3 rebounds - with just three points at OSU, after dropping 22 on Washington.
In the two second games, against UCLA and Washington, Horne is averaging 19.5 points and 6.0 rebounds. Today, Horne might not only be more focused, but he won't likely have to face the extended pressure Oregon State threw at him Thursday in its zone defense.
"It's part of who he is as a player, being able to be more consistent," Miller said. "He's become more consistent as our season has unfolded. (Thursday) night was a tough game for him - they forced him to handle the ball, and he wasn't able to do things to his strength. It wasn't like he wasn't trying."
Maybe it's a reach for those who don't believe in the paranormal, but consider this: Oregon, in its final full season at venerable McArthur Court, impressively swept the Washington road trip to begin the Pac-10 season.
Then the Ducks were pounded at home by Oregon State, which had just lost by 51 points to Seattle University, and ASU while hosting honorary captains before each league game (Oregon will honor former UA coach Lute Olson today).
The Ducks also lost to Montana and St. Mary's at home this season, more evidence that there may be some cranky "inhabitants" in the old building.
"I hope not," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said Friday, laughing. "There's a few of them there, I know. Not that I believe in ghosts or anything."
On StarNet: Get to know the Wildcats with the Star's Cat Cards player roll call at azstarnet.com/catcards/2010/bball
• What: Arizona at Oregon
• When: 2:30 p.m.
• TV: FSAZ
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM