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Hungry Ducks pleased but not satisfied

EUGENE — Dana Altman delivered an age-old message when he greeted his team after Oregon beat Stanford on Sunday to complete its first sweep in the Bay Area since 1976.

“I told them to be pleased, but not satisfied,” Altman said after the 73-70 win at Maples Pavilion. “That’s a quote from an old friend of mine. That’s where we are at. Be pleased with the weekend because you did a great job, but by no means are we satisfied. We can still grow as a team.”

Oregon (22-8) has won four straight games to sit third in the Pac-12 Conference at 12-5 heading into today's regular-season finale at Oregon State. The Ducks have clinched a first-round bye in the conference tournament and can finish no worse than third in the standings. They sit a half-game back of second-place Utah (22-6, 12-4).

“We had a lot of new guys this year so to continue to get better as the season has gone along has been awesome,” freshman guard Casey Benson said. “We have to keep making strides. We know we can continue to get better even though it is late in the season so we have to continue to work on it.”

Oregon was picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 this year and was in seventh at 2-3 on Jan. 18 after back-to-back losses at Washington State and Washington. The Ducks have won 10 of 12 games since then including four of six on the road.

“We’ve gotten better and I think that’s obvious since our road trip to Washington,” Altman said. “That was the turning point because we realized how poorly we played on defense. Since then we haven’t completely fixed it, but we have gotten better.”

Oregon gave up a total of 193 points on that trip to Washington, including 108 in an overtime loss to the Cougars.

The Ducks have not allowed more than 70 points during their current win streak and only Arizona has scored more than 75 against Oregon in its last 12 games.

“We have to continue to focus on the defensive end,” Benson said. “If shots are not falling, we have to get stops. Make teams shoot tough shots because if you give them easy baskets, it fuels them more.”

Oregon moved up to No. 34 in the RPI rankings Monday and is considered a No. 10 seed in the latest bracket projections by ESPN.com and CBSSports.com as it seeks a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Oregon’s eight-man rotation includes freshmen forwards Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks and guards Benson and Ahmaad Rorie along with junior-college transfer Dwayne Benjamin who are all beginning their first trip through the madness of March.

“It’s pretty fun,” Benson said. “I am having a really good time. I take everything as a learning experience and try to have fun doing it.”

Despite its inexperience, Oregon has come through in clutch situations including the win against Stanford, which featured three senior starters. After the game was tied 70-70 in the final minute, Oregon scored on its final two possessions and stopped the Cardinal on their final three.

Oregon is 5-0 in conference games decided by five points or less.

“We just want to stay positive, lift each other up, and fight until the end,” junior forward Elgin Cook said.