En route to Corvallis, Ore., a month ago, Arizona coach Sean Miller experienced an uneasy feeling that had nothing to do with the 10-hour ordeal of getting there.
Miller was worried about the Beavers' 1-3-1 zone defense, a gimmicky scheme that is not easily replicated in practice, which features an aggressive on-ball man at the top and a point guard racing back and forth along the baseline.
Turns out, Miller's fears were justified. The UA coughed up four turnovers in the first five minutes and quickly fell behind 14-3. The Wildcats later warmed to the zone and eventually built an 11-point second-half lead, but that melted away in the final minutes, leaving Miller with not one, but two reasons to feel sick to his stomach.
"It was the way that we lost at the end," Miller said. "You feel like they beat us, but we helped them by not being responsible at the end."
But while Miller expressed plenty of respect Friday for OSU coach Craig Robinson and the Beavers, who also run an unconventional offense, he spoke confidently about the rematch.
"When you play against their style for the first time, on the road with as many young players and a staff, that lack of familiarity can't be to your advantage," Miller said. "Now, at least, we've played against their style the way they play and hopefully we can execute what we do better and take advantage of being at home."
Here are some ways it could play out this time:
The Wildcats win if: They play together, passing the ball carefully and patiently around not only the 1-3-1, but the 2-3 matchup zone that the Beavers also play. They did it Thursday against Oregon's zones, with 20 assists on their 28 baskets.
Miller said that of the 20 points center Derrick Williams scored, about 14 or 16 of them were directly due to teammates who set him up. There were "a lot of different players using their dribble, being unselfish and taking what the defense gave us," Miller said.
The Wildcats lose if: OSU disrupts that passing, creating steals and fueling its offense. The Beavers lead the Pac-10 in steals with 8.1 per game, while forward Seth Tarver has the individual conference lead with an average of 2.4.
"I know it gives a lot of teams problems, so I definitely take pride in it," Tarver said. "I just try to exploit the weaknesses up there. Do things they don't want me to do."
The Wildcats win if: They stay comfortably in roles that appear to be solidifying. Even though Miller said last weekend that he was considering a lineup change, he indicated Friday he won't be messing with it.
Among other things, Miller said he does not want to moving steadily improving guard MoMo Jones into the starting lineup, because Jones has developed an important role off the bench.
"Change sometimes, as much as you think it works to your advantage, it can work to your disadvantage," Miller said. "We've done things the same way for a long time. Part of becoming better is that you're consistent with what you do."
The Wildcats lose if: As at Washington and Oregon State, the starters play well below expectations and the balance of attack suffers.
At Corvallis, Arizona received just five points total from starters Jamelle Horne and Solomon Hill, and just 11 total points from the bench.
At Washington, three UA starters (Derrick Williams, Kevin Parrom and Horne) had just 10 total points and 14 fouls.
The Wildcats win if: OSU can't shoot. Of course, if the Beavers hit just 24.6 percent of their field goals, as they did in a 56-46 loss Thursday at ASU, it may not matter a whole lot what the UA does offensively.
"We did everything well, but just didn't make shots, really," Tarver said. "We played great defense. We didn't turn the ball over. We just didn't make shots."
The Wildcats lose if: The Beavers play like a conference contender, as they did last week in a 62-42 blowout win over Oregon at Gill Coliseum.
"The trend is …," Robinson said, chuckling, "that we're inconsistent."
On StarNet: Follow the Arizona basketball team on Bruce Pascoe's blog at go.azstarnet.com/pascoe
• What: Oregon State at Arizona
• When: 6 p.m.
• TV: Ch. 8 (Cox, Comcast), Ch. 58 (DirecTV, Dish Network)
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)