Ducks on the Rise
EUGENE — Oregon moved up a spot in the seeding for the Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball tournament without even playing a game on the final day of the regular season.
Washington upset 13th-ranked Utah 77-68 on Saturday to knock the Utes into a tie for second place with Oregon at 13-5. The Ducks earned the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament because of their 69-58 win over Utah last month.
The Ducks (23-8) have a first-round bye when the tournament begins Wednesday at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and will face either seventh-seeded Oregon State (17-13) or No. 10 Colorado (14-16) in the quarterfinals at 6:10 p.m. Thursday. If the Ducks advance to the semifinals, they will play at 8:45 p.m. Friday, and the championship game will be at 8:05 p.m. Saturday.
Oregon State finished alone in seventh place at 8-10 and will face Colorado in the first round at 6:10 p.m. Wednesday. Colorado, Washington State and California tied for eighth at 7-11, but Cal earned the No. 8 seed and Washington State got the No. 9 seed after its 96-91 overtime victory over the Buffaloes on Saturday.
Oregon swept Oregon State this season, winning 71-59 at home in January and 65-62 in Corvallis on Wednesday. The Ducks beat Colorado 73-60 last month at Matthew Knight Arena.
In other first round games on Wednesday, California will play Washington State at 12:10 p.m. followed by fifth-seeded Arizona State against No. 12 USC at 2:40 p.m. Sixth-seeded Stanford plays No. 11 Washington to wrap up the night at 8:40 p.m.
All about the Benjamin
Oregon won its final five games of the regular season after Dwayne Benjamin went to the bench and the junior forward has thrived in a reserve role while averaging 27.2 minutes per game. Benjamin is averaging 13 points and 8.6 rebounds during the five-game winning streak while shooting 60 percent from the floor, including 11-for-23 on three-pointers.
“Big-time player,” Oregon senior guard Joseph Young said. “I have seen Dwayne put in work day in and day out, before and after practice, and it’s really paying off. He’s a great player.”
Benjamin got a steal and made a free throw for the go-ahead basket in the final seconds of a 73-70 victory at Stanford last Sunday. His three-pointer with just under 4 minutes remaining against Oregon State on Wednesday put Oregon ahead 55-52 and the Ducks never trailed again.
“Dwayne is very confident,” Oregon junior forward Elgin Cook said. “I am not surprised at what he is doing. He is playing very well, and I like it.”
Benjamin said he doesn’t care if he starts or comes off the bench.
“I just try to play every game and have fun,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”
The 6-foot-7, 210-pound Benjamin ranks second on the Ducks with 5.9 rebounds per game and is fourth with 8.7 points per game in his first year out of junior college.
“There is a transition for all players, and he’s settling in,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “He’s practicing a lot better, his focus is better and he’s just done a real good job of making that progress. It all starts in practice, and he’s done a better job there to make himself a more complete player come game time.”
Altman said Benjamin could be even better next year after a full year in the program.
“The thing about him is he has such a high ceiling,” Altman said. “He can get so much better if he focuses in the offseason and puts time in. With his skill level and athleticism, it’s a great balance. I think he could be a really good player.”
Oregon State has improved under first-year coach Wayne Tinkle, and the excitement around the program led to 9,339 fans’ showing up for the Civil War to close out the regular season.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Altman said. “This is great for basketball in the state of Oregon. Football has dominated the conversation for so long, so having a rivalry and two teams competing in a place that’s full, that’s good for basketball. Kids grow up watching the game and want to be basketball players. ... They have got a great recruiting class coming in, and we have a pretty good one coming in so I hope both teams get to the level where you can’t find a ticket for Oregon State and Oregon.”
The crowd was loud from the start when Tinkle surprised everyone by starting five walk-ons against the Ducks. The Beavers committed turnovers on each of their first two possessions as Oregon took a 3-0 lead before Tinkle put his usual starters in the game.
“I figured he was doing it to fire up the crowd and get everyone excited,” Altman said. “We’ve got our walk-ons too and they do a great job. It was a great gesture. I was a walk-on so I like it. I was really happy that we stayed focused.”