by Rob Moseley
In what's become an annual tradition, UO coach Dana Altman made an appeal to the Ducks on Monday.
His message: As the regular season enters the homestretch, the seniors need to be leaders. And underclassmen should be motivated to send those seniors out as a winners.
"He's kind of been preaching that, and I've been trying to say the same thing," UO senior guard Johnathan Loyd said. "Go hard and lead by example."
Loyd has vivid memories of Altman delivering a similar message last season, particularly after being swept at Colorado and Utah to end the regular season. The Ducks' NCAA hopes would be dashed with a loss in the Pac-12 Tournament but, motivated in part by the appeal to play for seniors like E.J. Singler and Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon won the conference tournament and reached the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen.
Altman hopes this year's UO men's basketball team will react in similar fashion. Loyd, Mike Moser, Jason Calliste, Richard Amardi, Waverly Austin and Nicholas Lucenti have three weeks left in their final regular season, beginning Wednesday against Washington in Matthew Knight Arena (6:05 p.m. PT, ESPN2).
"It's been a good group to work with, and hopefully we can finish strong for those guys," Altman said.
The Ducks (16-8, 4-8 Pac-12) are trending in the right direction thanks to Sunday's 93-83 win over Oregon State. The final score didn't illustrate how one-sided the first half was — the Ducks once led by 19 — nor how well the Beavers rallied, getting within two on a couple of occasions in the second half.
But after four previous two-point losses in conference play, this time Oregon bowed its back and held off OSU. The Ducks have renewed confidence should they find themselves in tight games moving forward, and not just based off that one game.
"Guys figured out what we need to do, and how we need to do it," UO wing Damyean Dotson said. "I feel like we're ready for this game.
"In practices when we're tired we've been getting shots up, guarding, playing one-on-one defense and stuff like that. I feel like that helped us in practice, and it just related to the game. As we continue to do that, I feel like we'll get better at it."
Oregon had previously lost in January to Oregon State during a five-game string of defeats. It's the same situation against the Huskies — UW beat the Ducks for the fifth of those consecutive defeats in January, and in both cases Oregon faces Washington right after playing OSU.
The Huskies (14-12, 6-7) won 80-76 in Seattle on Jan. 23. The Ducks were within one at 73-72 when the Pac-12's second-leading scorer, UW senior C.J. Wilcox, drilled a game-clinching three-pointer.
Oregon led at halftime but didn't execute down the stretch, in one of five losses this season by the margin of a single possession.
"We owe 'em," Loyd said. "Kind of gave the game away up there."
Dotson said he intends to "start off locked in" as the defender on Wilcox this time out. Oregon players Tuesday said they intend to go over the top of screens this time out, rather then underneath, in order to stick tight to their man.
"I like the way we guarded (Wilcox)," Altman said. "He just, when he got an open look, he hit it. We've just got to be more attentive, can't give him anything in transition, and do a little better job on the picks they set for him."
The Ducks were also victimized last time by burly UW post Perris Blackwell, who scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting. That came during a midseason lull for UO's starting center, Austin, who didn't get off the bench that night.
But Austin has enjoyed a resurgence in recent games. He had a season-high six rebounds at Arizona State on March 4, and played 13 effective minutes against Oregon State on Sunday.
"Wave's given us some good minutes here, and I hope he can continue that," Altman said. "Defense and rebounds the last two games have been really good, so I hope he'll continue to focus on those things."
Wednesday's game is the second of three straight at home for the Ducks, who are hoping to use their homecourt advantage to fuel a late run back to the NCAA Tournament.
"If we end the season hot and keep winning, I just know we have a good chance," Loyd said. "So my focus is just on winning."