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Ducks prepare for key road trip to Los Angeles schools

Three straight home wins have raised the stakes when Oregon heads Thursday to Los Angeles.

"It's major, we need them both," forward Mike Moser said. "It is a big weekend, it has major tournament implications. I think the whole team knows that."

The Ducks men's basketball team (18-8, 6-8) plays Thursday at UCLA (21-6, 10-4), which is second in the Pac-12 but fell out of the top 25 following a loss to Stanford on Saturday. Then Oregon visits last-place USC (10-17, 1-13) Saturday.

The Ducks' chances of making the NCAA Tournament were boosted with three wins in eight days, but they remain a confusing squad for "bracketologists." Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com has Oregon in the tournament as a No. 11 seed, but ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Oregon as the fifth team out of his bracket.

Oregon could give its tournament hopes a big boost with a win over the Bruins as well as remaining home games against Arizona State and Arizona. The Ducks lost to all three of those teams by two points earlier this season.

"We played our way out of it and now we have played our way close to getting back in it," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "We have a great opportunity now. Three of the four teams left have got a real high RPI. We had opportunities before and lost all three by two so now we go try to turn it around. It will not be easy."

UCLA, which beat Oregon 70-68 on a shot by Travis Wear in the final seconds last month, had won four straight before losing to the Cardinal. USC has lost eight straight games, including a 78-66 loss at Oregon.

"UCLA is playing really good so we will have to play well there," Altman said. "USC will be a tough ballgame at home. We've got our work cut out for us, but at least we have put ourselves back in the hunt."

After winning just two games in six weeks, the Ducks have picked up consecutive wins over Oregon State, Washington and Washington State.

"We are making steps," senior guard Jason Calliste said. "We are pushing each other to make the right plays. It is about playing hard for us. When we have a slow start it is because we are not playing hard. It has nothing to do with talent or anything like that."

"It will take 12 guys together, especially on the road now, that is when slow starts can catch you," Moser said. "That is not what you want. When you play good teams, you have to be on the same page."

Oregon has been outscored 70-60 in the first half of its last two games before outscoring the Huskies and Cougars 85-54 after the break.

"We've just got to be ready to play," Altman said. "It is more important on the road, I always thought, to get off to a good start. The first four minutes against UCLA will be important. We need a better start."

Oregon could get a boost at the beginning if Damyean Dotson returns to the starting lineup against the Bruins, but his status Thursday is unknown. The sophomore was suspended against Washington State after being arrested and released by police for using a false identification at a campus bar Saturday morning.

Dotson was averaging 16 points in his last two games while shooting 13-for-17 from the field. He ranks fourth on the team with 10.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

"Dot played really well the last two games," Altman said. "He has been a little inconsistent with his shooting because I think his shot selection hasn't been really good, but I like his energy. He's all about the team. I think he has a chance to be really good, I think he can get a lot better. He has a lot in front of him. He is a team guy, plays hard, there is a lot to like about him."

Dotson is the first Duck known to have been suspended for a game by Altman in his four years at Oregon, though he isn't the first Oregon player to miss playing time this season. Dominic Artis and Ben Carter were suspended by the NCAA for selling team gear online. They missed Oregon's first nine games of the season after the university self-reported the violation.

Altman made it clear that Dotson had a solid track record in his two years at the school before getting into trouble during the weekend.

"Dot is a good young man and we'll work through this," Altman said. "For two years, he's done a lot of good things. He's going to be all right."