by Rob Moseley
After holding off Oregon State down the stretch Sunday, the Oregon men's basketball team talked as if it had turned the corner on a string of late-game struggles.
One outcome does not a trend make, of course. But after a 78-71 win over Washington on Wednesday, there just may be something to the Ducks' new-found confidence down the stretch.
After trailing by three at halftime, Oregon (17-8, 5-8 Pac-12) scored the first 10 points of the second half and never trailed again. The Huskies (14-13, 6-8) fought back to a 60-60 tie with 9:11 left, but just as was the case against the Beavers three days earlier, the Ducks might have let the opponent get close, but they never fell behind in crunch time.
"Guys have stayed resilient, they've stayed together," said UO coach Dana Altman, whose squad has lost four conference games by two points, and lost at UW in January by four. "The seniors have tried to lead. It's really important to those guys to finish strong. So yeah, I like the way they've handled it."
Senior Mike Moser led the Ducks with 20 points Wednesday, including a three-point play to tie the game on the first possession of the second half, and another to give Oregon a 76-70 lead with 1:31 left. Senior guard Jason Calliste helped Oregon hound UW guard C.J. Wilcox into a nine-point night — less than half his average — and senior Johnathan Loyd clinched it with two free throws in the final six seconds.
It seemed fitting that Loyd had that honor, as the victory was the 90th of his UO career, breaking a record he shared with 2013 senior E.J. Singler after the Civil War win Sunday. Loyd said then he couldn't wait to get the record all his own, and hold it over Singler's head.
"I'm gonna call him right after I get out of here," a gleeful Loyd said Wednesday during his postgame interview.
The victory was Oregon's second straight, the first time that's happened since the Ducks' 13-game win streak to open the season. Oregon remains on bubble watch for the NCAA Tournament, which helps explain the sense of urgency the team his displayed over the last week.
It wasn't always apparent in the first half Wednesday. The Ducks started hot offensively but, perhaps in paying too much attention to Wilcox on the perimeter, were victimized in the post by the Huskies. Oregon led by as much as five, 24-19, but UW went on an extended 20-12 run to lead 39-36 at the break.
Coming out of halftime, players huddled in the courtside tunnel for some final words from Loyd. His message: "Play as hard as you can when you're out there. Don't worry about nothing else."
The message thus delivered, Loyd's teammates showed they received it. Moser's three-point play tied it, and UW never led again. Loyd, Damyean Dotson and then Joseph Young followed with buckets, and suddenly Oregon had scored 10 straight.
With Loyd playing tighter on the UW guards to deny post entry, the Huskies relied more on jump shots in the second half. Their shooting percentage predictably fell, while the Ducks hit at a .667 clip after halftime thanks to the willingness of Moser, Young and Dotson to attack the basket.
After UW tied it 60-60, Young scored on a reverse layin, Dotson completed a three-point play and then Dotson scored again after a UW basket. After each score, Dotson emphatically pumped his fist and shouted.
"Just trying to get back in my rhythm, focus on playing hard," said Dotson, who also teamed with Calliste to help shut down Wilcox. "Coach said to focus on defense and rebounding, and that's what I tried to do, and the offense came too."
A couple Oregon turnovers gave the Huskies a final glimmer of hope with the Ducks up 73-70. But Desmond Simmons couldn't score while absorbing contact on Washington's end, while Moser did finish at the other end, and did draw a foul.
The three-point play, for a killer 76-70 lead, came on what Moser admitted was a broken play.
"Somebody was in the wrong spot," Moser said sheepishly. "It worked out pretty good."
The same could be said of the end result for Oregon, and what it meant to Altman. The UO coach was able to celebrate his 500th victory as a Division-I coach, and was presented with a ceremonial ball by UO athletic director Rob Mullens in the locker room.
Those wins came during stops at Marshall, Kansas State, Creighton and Oregon, and might never have been possible if not for Altman's big break: successfully recruiting Mitch Richmond to Kansas State while an assistant there from 1986-89, he said.
"I've been lucky," Altman said. "The people I've been around at all the schools I've worked have just been so supportive."
And of course Altman's had a hand in his own success, including the resiliency Oregon has shown this season, which continues Sunday when the Ducks host Washington State.
"We've still got a lot of work ahead of us," Altman said. "But the great thing for us is, we're going to have our shot. And it starts again on Sunday."
NOTES: With the victory, Oregon clinched a fourth consecutive winning season for the fourth time in school history. … The Ducks have now claimed 90 wins in the past four seasons, which is the first time that’s happened since the 1938-42 seasons. … Moser scored a game-high 20 points. He’s led the team in scoring six times and has scored 20 or more points in five games. … Dotson matched his season-high with 17 points with a very efficient performance. The sophomore went 7-of-8 from the floor. … The Ducks shot 67 percent in the second half (16-24) and finished the game shooting over 50 percent for the ninth time this season, and for the first time since falling to Stanford on Jan. 12.