Sandwiched in the middle of a tough stretch of road games, this weekend's home games against the Oregon schools may very well be the most important of the season for the Arizona women's basketball team.
"It's a huge weekend, number one to get our confidence," said Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini, whose team has lost eight of their last nine games.
When the Wildcats (5-10, 1-4 Pacific 10 Conference) tip off tonight at 7 in McKale Center against Oregon State, they will be facing a team whose struggles of late may seem familiar to the Wildcat players.
The Beavers, losers of five straight games, check in at 6-6 overall, but 0-4 in conference play.
"They play hard. They don't ever stop," assistant coach Todd Holthaus said. "They're physical. We've got to box out (and) we've got to crash the boards."
Assistant coach Kellee Barney said, "It's a different-looking team than in the past. I think the (Oregon State) coaching staff has done a great job. It's going to be one of those games where we can't afford to let down. We just need to get after it."
Returning home from a set of road games in Los Angeles riding a four-game losing streak, the Wildcats can enjoy the comforts of home - at least for the next two games.
"Our fans help us so much in our game," sophomore forward Ché Oh said. "No matter what's happening, they always support us, so it'll be really nice to have a home game."
Following their matchup with Oregon State tonight, the Wildcats will host Oregon on Saturday, and then it's off to Stanford for the first of four road games.
"I think this is a very big weekend for us," Holthaus said. "We need to carry that momentum this weekend, and these are games that we've got a shot at. If we could get two, that'd be great, because it could help our confidence."
Oh echoed the importance of getting wins at home before another tough road trip. "Hopefully we can get some wins this weekend to carry us into the away games because road games are so much harder," she said. "We don't have our fans, and we have to travel. You have jetlag (and) all that other stuff."
Despite playing short-handed, the Beavers managed to end their non-conference slate an impressive 6-2.
"They really did well non-conference," Bonvicini said. "They have a good coach and coaching staff, (and) they're playing really hard."
Oregon State is led by senior forward Kim Butler, who averages 17.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game and hits 50 percent (84-for-168) of her shots.
If the Beaver bench seems a little short, that's because it is, officially listing only 10 players on the roster compared to Arizona's 15.
There will be a few changes in that Wildcat lineup tomorrow, as senior forward Anna Chappell will replace freshman forward Whitney Fields in the starting lineup after Fields missed some workouts, Barney said.
The game will also likely mark the debut of freshman forward Amina Njonkou, who missed the first two months of the season with a stress fracture in her foot, and thus far, has made a favorable impression on her coaches in practice.
"For her first practice she looked great for being out as long as she has been," Barney said, adding that Njonkou has displayed her familiar "aggressive style, looking to attack the basket.
"I saw some really good things that we've missed."
An area Arizona has recently struggled with has been rebounding, and the Cameroon native, who was expected to start in the post before her injury, is expected to pick up some slack in that department.
"She'll definitely impact us on the boards more than anything," Barney said. "She's kind of a scoring presence down low. She's big and strong, (so) people will have a hard time down low trying to move her away from the box."
A team desperately in search of momentum and the confidence that inevitably follows, Bonvicini said her team is primed for victory.
"(The game) is going to be really good, and I'm really encouraged because the players are ready," she said. "They really want to win."