Ducks well aware of climb ahead
Oregon is paying more attention to the schedule than the standings.
The Ducks moved into a tie for fourth place in the Pac-12 at 7-5 following a sweep of the Washington schools. Oregon is one-half game behind USC and UCLA, which are tied for second at 8-5 as they prepare to host the Ducks this week.
A sweep of the Bruins and Trojans would leave the Ducks alone in second place. A winless trip to Los Angeles could drop Oregon as far as 10th in a tightly-packed conference race.
“If we win games, that will take care of the rest,” Oregon senior forward MiKyle McIntosh said. “When it comes time to look at the standings, I will, but the focus is on getting better and winning games.”
Only conference-leading Arizona at 10-3 has fewer than five losses in league. The eight teams between second and ninth in the standings are separated by one game with Oregon the only one in that group with four road games remaining on the schedule.
“It is hard to tell in our league because of home and road games and who has to go where, but we have a tough schedule ahead,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
The Ducks likely will be underdogs in four of their final six games of the regular season beginning with Thursday’s trip to USC.
Oregon is up to No. 80 in RPI, but five of the final six games are against teams well ahead of them in that ranking. The only Pac-12 teams in the Top 25, No. 17 Arizona and No. 25 Arizona State, visit Matthew Knight Arena next week before the Ducks finish up at Washington State and Washington.
“The schedule shifts for us here with four games on the road and two at home,” Altman said. “We are going go have to play our tails off and have a couple of really good road trips. It gives us an opportunity because the five teams they are talking about being in the NCAA Tournament, we’ve got each one of them, so we are going to have our shot. We will see if we are tough enough to take advantage of that.”
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm of CBS both have USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Washington in their latest bracket projection. Lunardi does not have the Ducks as one of the first eight teams out the field.
Oregon likely needs to win at least four and maybe five of its final six games of the regular season to head to the Pac-12 Tournament next month with any hope of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Ducks have won five of their past six games and followed up a 35-point loss at Stanford with blowout wins at home over Washington and Washington State.
“We are definitely jelling more,” sophomore point guard Payton Pritchard said. “We are making strides and going to L.A., we have to be better. We need to win both to be honest.”
After totaling 10 points and seven rebounds in last week’s games at California and Stanford, Pritchard was nominated for Pac-12 player of the week on Monday after averaging 15.5 points while shooting 52.2 percent from the field and 45.5 percent on three-pointers in the home sweep. He had 18 assists with two turnovers against the Huskies and Cougars.
Troy Brown also could have been a candidate for the honor after averaging 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds with seven steals.
“This year’s team is all new so it is taking longer, but we are making strides,” Pritchard said. “Going down these last six games, we need to win so we will see how we are jelling then.”
After splitting its first four weekend series in the conference, Oregon earned its first sweep against the Washington schools.
“We came in here and protected our home court, which was important because we needed two wins,” McIntosh said. “We got a couple more to go, so we need to build on this for the next game.”