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Ducks are a hot tourney topic

Oregon is becoming the trendy darkhorse pick for the Pac-12 Conference men's basketball tournament next month.

Pac-12 coaches, analysts and the Ducks themselves have all said this week that Oregon could be a team capable of winning four games in four days to capture the title in Las Vegas on March 12-15.

"They are a team that can get hot, get a rhythm and get their mojo going in those four days," former Oregon coach Ernie Kent said on the Pac-12 Network, where he serves as an analyst. "Four games in four days, they certainly have the firepower to do it. I think Oregon can get hot at a critical time late in the season and make a run."

Former Oregon State point guard Lamar Hurd, also an analyst on the Pac-12 Network, agreed with Kent.

"I think Oregon, they are dangerous offensively and have all the pieces there," Hurd said. "If you just ask them to outscore an opponent for four days, if it is just 'Lets go in there for one weekend fellas and do it', I think they can do it."

Oregon leads the conference in scoring at 83.5 points per game.

"Oregon is capable of scoring in bunches," California coach Mike Montgomery said. "In the tournament, they will be dangerous because they have a whole lot of guys that can score points and in the tournament setting that helps. And they have great depth."

Oregon is the defending tournament champion but needed to win only three games in last year's tournament after earning a first-round bye. The Ducks will not have that luxury this season as they won't finish in the top four and thus have to play four games.

"They are a team to me that could go run off a victory every game they play the rest of the conference season and in the Pac-12 tournament," said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, whose Huskies lost to Oregon 78-71 on Wednesday.

The Ducks have been good enough to be ranked No. 10 in the country this year but have been sitting at 10th in the conference for the past couple of weeks and are 5-8 in the Pac-12. Those highs and lows have the Ducks considered a wild card for the tournament.

"A lot of Oregon's reputation was based on the preseason, and preseason is hard to evaluate based on who, what, where and what is going on," Montgomery said. "Oregon is a decent team capable of beating anyone on any given night and that is what the tournament is for."

Oregon (17-8) has fallen off the NCAA Tournament bubble in recent weeks and may need to win the conference tournament to secure a return trip to March Madness. The Ducks have won two straight games against Oregon State and Washington as they prepare to face Washington State today.

"We need all these wins, (because) we are kind of on the bubble talking NCAA Tournament," guard Johnathan Loyd said. "It is good momentum going into the (Pac-12) tournament. If we can stay hot and get hot at the tournament, that will benefit us."

ESPN's Joe Lunardi moved Oregon up in his rankings this week, listing them as the fifth team out of his bracket.

Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com had the Ducks in the tournament as a No. 10 seed on Friday. Loyd said he has stopped paying attention to all the bracketologists.

"I am worried about our team," Loyd said. "I know that if we end the season hot and keep winning, then we have a good chance to get in there still."

Oregon has three of its final five games of the regular season at home, including against No. 4 Arizona and Arizona State, which is just outside of the top 25 and a likely NCAA team. Oregon also has to visit No. 23 UCLA.

"We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but the great thing for us is that we are going to have our shot," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "It starts again Sunday and all I am worried about is Washington State on Sunday."

Altman feels like the Ducks have the ability to get on a hot streak.

"A team can catch a spark; this time of year there is always someone that catches a spark across the country," he said. "A team or two that starts playing well. I think we do have talent, we can score. We've had problems with our interior defense and rebounding, but I think we have improved on that.

"Close losses on the road in Arizona and to UCLA, three teams at the top of the league, give us hope we are not too far away. If we get a couple more wins under our belt, this team is talented.

"We have good guys who stayed with it even through a tough patch here. They have stayed aggressive, stayed attentive and stayed together as a team.

"So yeah, I think we have got a shot."