By Rob Moseley
This is a different Oregon men’s basketball team than the one that faced Arizona State a month ago. Might it be a different result when the Ducks host ASU in Matthew Knight Arena on Tuesday?
The Sun Devils and Ducks will tip off at 8:07 p.m., a game televised by Fox Sports 1. The UO men are playing for their sixth straight win, to avenge a two-point loss in Tempe on Feb. 8 and, yes, to continuing fanning the flames of their NCAA Tournament chances.
Due to the rare Tuesday conference game, Oregon (20-8, 8-8) will then have three days off before hosting No. 3 Arizona on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s two tough games we’ve really got to get,” UO senior Mike Moser said. “We’re just trying to play with a sense of desperation.”
The Ducks did that last week, securing a double-overtime victory at UCLA and then pulling away to avoid an upset at USC. The victories weren’t always pretty – “we haven’t played smart all the time,” UO coach Dana Altman said – but they put Oregon inside the NCAA Tournament bubble entering the final week of the regular season.
As of Saturday, Jerry Palm of CBS Sports projected Oregon as a No. 10 seed into the tournament field. Joe Lunardi of ESPN updated his projection Monday, and has the Ducks in a play-in game for the right to fill a No. 12 seed.
“It’s a clean slate right now,” UO junior Joseph Young said. “This would be two big wins, and we’re taking it one game at a time.
“We need them; we want them, too. That’s our mindset, and that’s what we’re playing for.”
Young had a spectacular second half against the Sun Devils in early February, scoring all 29 of his points in the game after halftime. The Ducks trailed by as much as 20 in the first half, then used a 34-11 second-half run to take the lead with five minutes to go.
Oregon’s pressing defense fueled the comeback.
“That got us going,” Young said. “Once it got us going, that got everybody knocking down shots.”
Young’s final shot, however, would not fall. His layin attempt just before the buzzer was blocked by 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski, and the Ducks suffered their third loss in four games, all by two points.
At present, the Ducks are handling themselves better – if not always perfect – late in close games.
“It definitely shows our resilience,” Moser said. “Having to come from behind a lot, that’s huge for us.”
Despite the imposing presence of Bachynski, the Ducks said prior to their practice Monday that they intend to attack the post against the Sun Devils. As a guard-oriented team, Oregon often relies on perimeter jump shots, but Altman doesn’t want that to be the case Tuesday.
“We definitely have to get in there,” Altman said. “Shooting’s always going to be a big part of our game, because we are a perimeter-oriented team and we don’t have a great presence inside offensively. But we do have to get to the paint, most of it with dribble penetration.”
If nothing else, driving could allow Oregon to exploit its 77.5 percent free-throw shooting, third-best nationally.
“We’ve got to take advantage of that,” Young said. “Take it to the hole, get fouls, knock down free throws and win it from there.”