EUGENE — As Dana Altman built a Pac-12 power at Oregon, he had Arizona in mind.
During his first season with the Ducks in 2010-11, Altman watched the Wildcats win the conference title and reach the Elite Eight under coach Sean Miller. Miller had previously coached at Xavier where he battled Altman at Creighton. Arizona won back-to-back Pac-12 titles in 2014 and 2015 and finished each of those seasons with a loss in the West Regional final of the NCAA Tournament.
“We have got great respect for what Arizona has accomplished with three final eights and they’ve kind of led the league,” Altman said after the Ducks beat the Wildcats 85-58 on Saturday and climbed to No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25 Monday. “Our comment when we recruit somebody has always been, ‘Are they good enough to help us beat Arizona?’ That is still where we’re at.”
During the past two seasons, Oregon caught up to the Wildcats and developed a legitimate rivalry. The Ducks dethroned Arizona as Pac-12 champs last year and have won three consecutive games over the Wildcats to match their longest winning streak in the series.
The Ducks have done that despite finishing behind Arizona in the recruiting rankings each season.
The Wildcats beat Oregon for Stanley Johnson and Brandon Ashley, but Tyler Dorsey originally committed to Arizona before signing with Oregon, and the Ducks recruited Casey Benson out of Arizona when he was not offered a scholarship by the Wildcats.
“They put recruiting classes together that are off the charts,” Altman said of Arizona. “If we’re going to be successful, we have to continue to recruit players to play against those guys and we have to continue to develop guys.”
Oregon and No. 9 Arizona, both 21-3 overall, head into the final four weeks of the regular season tied for first place in the conference at 10-1, with one of those two schools likely to claim the Pac-12 title for the fourth year in a row.
The Ducks own the tiebreaker by winning the lone meeting in the regular season, but Altman still feels like the underdog because of the schedule ahead.
“I told our guys we have five road games and Colorado and Utah at home,” Altman said. “Arizona has to go on the road for three games and has four at home, so it’s not even close.”
Both teams still have to play No. 10 UCLA, which is also 21-3 overall but 8-3 in conference. Arizona has the third-place Bruins at home on Feb. 25, and Oregon will visit Pauley Pavilion on Thursday.
“We control our destiny now, but we know we have to go on the road,” Dorsey said. “It’s going to be tough and we have to battle.”
Oregon’s 27-point victory over Arizona marked its largest margin of victory over a top 10 team.
“We can play even better than that,” guard Dillon Brooks said. “I think the sky’s the limit.”
Oregon is 3-2 on the road and 2-1 in neutral-site games outside of Oregon as it prepares to hit the road for three of the final four weekends of the regular season.
The Ducks have just two games left at Matthew Knight Arena, where they have the nation’s longest active home winning streak. The Ducks have won 40 in a row since an 80-62 loss to Arizona on Jan. 8, 2015.
“I feel like the longest home winning streak deserves to be here in Oregon,” Brooks said. “We want to keep it going. We built this program up into a great program that teams are scared to play. We have great players around the organization and a great staff, so that’s a recipe for a home winning streak.”
Six of Oregon’s 10 scholarship players have never lost at home, and that winning streak represents another transfer of power from Arizona to Oregon. The Wildcats had won 49 in a row at home until the Ducks won 83-75 at McKale Center last season.
“For two years, our guys have played hard at home, and the crowd has been good to us,” Altman said. “You don’t develop a winning atmosphere at home without good players and good fans. Our core group has been unbelievable. We’ve added some players, but the group that has been with us has been unbelievable.
“A couple of years ago Arizona, popped us here, but they dominated us and were better than us that year. We hope to see them again because if we do, that would be late in the tournament and that would be a lot of fun.”
Oregon and Arizona have met in the Pac-12 Tournament during each of the past two seasons, with a meeting in the title game looking possible again this season.
“We look up to Arizona, we want to be just as good as them as a prestigious team,’ Brooks said. “They have a great coach and great players and we’re going to see them again soon enough.”