Arizona’s last two trips to Matthew Knight Arena resulted in memorable wins for Oregon in front of sellout crowds.
Two years ago, the Wildcats were 10-0 in the Pac-12 before the Ducks hit 16 3-pointers in a 85-58 victory. Arizona was in the midst of a controversy that forced coach Sean Miller to skip last year’s game in Eugene when the Ducks survived for a 98-93 overtime win.
Those are among the victories that Oregon senior forward Paul White will recall as he prepares for his final home game when the Wildcats arrive in town Saturday at 7 p.m.
“I’m not a person to backtrack, I kind of stay in the moment, but I have looked back all the way to my freshmen year at Georgetown and high school,” White said.
Arizona (17-12, 8-8) and Oregon (16-12, 7-8) have combined to win the past five conference championships, but the hype will be diminished when the two face off in what appears to be a battle for seventh or eighth place in the Pac-12. Both schools are used to having a first-round bye at the Pac-12 Tournament, but instead are trying to build momentum and make a four-day run to the tournament title for their only chance to reach the NCAA Tournament.
“We welcome these kind of challenges,” White said. “We haven’t backed down so far.”
Arizona has won three straight following a 74-72 win at Oregon State on Thursday that moved it into a three-way tie for sixth in the conference, one-half game up on the Ducks. Oregon would move ahead of Arizona with a win and claim a sweep of the series following a 59-54 win over the Wildcats last month.
“Arizona is a proud program so they are not going to give in,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “We beat them at their place and I know how competitive that program is. We will have a heck of a fight on Saturday. We have to get ready and play well.”
Following the game, White and guard Ehab Amin will be honored as Oregon’s two seniors playing their final regular-season game at Matthew Knight Arena.
“It is March and every game is huge, but this one is really big especially on senior night,” Amin said. “Every game matters now so we can’t let anything slip.”
Amin is coming off one of the best games during his lone season with the Ducks when he had 11 points, five rebounds, three steals, and two assists in a 79-51 win over Arizona State.
“Coach tells me to stay positive and be ready when the moment comes,” he said. “All I can control is staying ready and my teammates have done a great job being positive.”
Amin never found a set role with the Ducks after arriving as a graduate transfer from Texas A&M Corpus Christi. The 6-4 guard is averaging 5.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.4 assists per game.
“I was hoping for Ehab that he would have a better year, it has been a little up and down,” Altman said. “He has shown a lot of class and really tried to help the team whenever he can.”
Amin started the first seven games before moving to a reserve role. He did not play for the first time all season in last week’s 90-83 loss at UCLA when Altman explained that he liked the rotation that built a 19-point lead early in the second half and stuck with those players.
“It has been a roller-coaster, ups and downs,” Amin said. “Just had the mentality to leave it all out there and no regrets. … I have been trying to adjust to what coach needs from me. Whatever they ask me to do, I do whenever my name is called.”
White, who will make his 51st start for the Ducks on Saturday, played his first two seasons at Georgetown before transferring to Oregon, where he sat out a redshirt year before playing two seasons. The 6-9 forward has averaged 9.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists with the Ducks.
“Paul had a lot of good moments,” Altman said. “He has been a big part of our team.”
White ranks among the top four Ducks in just about every statistical category this season. Altman has credited White for leading an inexperienced group of big men and noted how UO’s offensive sets don’t run as smoothly when he is out of the game.
The 23-year old who graduated last year with a degree in sociology knows those compliments aren’t always obvious to outsiders.
“I’m not a high-flyer or anything like that and that is something I welcome,” he said. “I think programs have enjoyed what I have to offer because I help in any way I can. It is hard to outdo somebody who can touch the top of the backboard or someone who is 7-3 and dribbles like they are 6-3. We are living in the world of social media and people just want to see highlights. Sometimes I have those moments, but sometimes I just have a simple assist or 3-pointer.”
White was asked to play center some of last season and expected to be on the wing more this season before an injury to Bol Bol forced him to play a variety of roles.
“Going back to Georgetown when they wanted me to play point guard in some games, I think I have played just about every position there is, even assistant coach,” White said. “I have seen the game through a lot of different angles. Last year I played mostly center and I never expected to play that in college. I have taken it in stride and learned from some of those roles.”