Break time comes at worst time for Oregon
EUGENE — Oregon has more than a week without a game before the start of the Pac-12 tournament, but Dana Altman isn’t sure that’s an advantage.
“We’re playing good,” Oregon’s coach said after a 65-62 victory at Oregon State on Wednesday night to wrap up the regular season. “I don’t want eight days off. When you’re playing good and the ball is moving, guys are feeling good. We’ll give them a couple days off here, but we have a lot of work to do to get ready.”
Oregon (23-8) finished 13-5 in conference play to earn a first-round bye when the tournament begins on Wednesday at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Oregon will finish third and open at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday unless Washington beats Utah today, in which case the Ducks would move up to No. 2 and play a 6 p.m. game.
If Oregon is third, it will face either the No. 6 or No. 11 seed. Washington is the No. 11 seed, but the sixth through 10th spots won’t be set until after today’s games.
“We will take a couple days off and prepare for whoever we play,” Oregon senior guard Joseph Young said. “We know we have a bye, but we won’t take that for granted. We have to continue to practice hard and prepare. I played in the tournament last year so I know we can’t go out there thinking we’re going to win because everyone is trying to win it.”
Young, Elgin Cook, Jalil Abdul-Bassit and walk-on Theo Friedman are the four Ducks who played in the tournament last year when Oregon beat Oregon State in the first round and lost to UCLA in the quarterfinals.
“We just have to get ready, focus in on defense, and take care of our bodies,” Cook said.
Oregon moved up to No. 29 in the RPI rankings, probably good enough to put the Ducks in the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year, but any victories in the conference tournament would strengthen their case. CBSSports.com projects Oregon as a No. 9 seed, and ESPN.com has the Ducks as a No. 10 seed.
“Let it play out,” Young said when asked if he thought Oregon has secured an NCAA berth. “We’re not worried about the tournament. We still have a conference tournament in front of us and we’ll take it game-by-game.”
Oregon closed out the regular season with five straight victories including the last three on the road at California, Stanford and Oregon State.
“That was a tough stretch, any time you go on the road,” Altman said. “Stanford was 13-2 at home with losses to Arizona and UCLA and (OSU) had only lost at home to a great Utah team so we had to play the last two games in environments where they hadn’t lost. Both games came down to the wire, and we made the plays we had to.
“It showed some determination from our guys. I’m happy for them. I hope that shows signals of progress and growth from our team.”
Oregon lost its first three conference road games but finished 5-4 away from home in Pac-12 games.
“I think the road stretch we’re on is preparing us for the Pac-12 tournament and the NCAA Tournament,” Cook said.
Oregon will also be prepared for close games in the upcoming tournaments after winning each of its last two games by three points. The Ducks are 6-0 in conference games decided by five points or fewer.
“That’s really important, because in college basketball, there are a lot of close games,” Altman said. “Being on the right side of those numbers is uplifting, it gives you energy. The guys do feel confident. You don’t want them to get too confident, but you want them to feel like in those game situations that they can get stops, get rebounds, and make plays to get it done.”
Now the Ducks will try to maintain that feeling during a week without a game.
“Everybody is very confident, but it starts in practice,” Cook said. “As long as we practice hard and stay with it, I think we’ll be fine.”