EUGENE, Ore. – When the Oregon Ducks left the state of Arizona a month ago, they were 3-8 in conference play, their hopes of staying in the Pac-12 race and NCAA tournament hunt all but over.
But by Tuesday, Oregon beat ASU 85-78 to improve to 9-8 in the Pac-12, out of the conference race that UA wrapped up on Sunday but firmly in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid.
That's six straight wins.
“I’m not surprised. I knew we were capable of it,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said after Tuesday's game at Matthew Knight Arena. “And I knew the schedule would flip in our favor. We were losing but we were on the road. We had to take care of business and play better. But we knew we had the talent and guys were staying together. They weren’t jumping ship, so I knew we had a chance.”
One theory has been that the Ducks struggled with chemistry problems early in Pac-12 play after Dominic Artis and forward Ben Carter returned from a suspension in December, though guard Damyean Dotson said he believed things “stayed the same” in the Oregon locker room.
Another reason for Oregon’s optimism, even in the depths of that 3-8 start: Its last three losses during that dip were all by two points each -- to UCLA, UA and ASU.
Of course, the Wildcats were still trying to figure things out after the loss of Brandon Ashley when the Ducks nearly beat them on Feb. 6 at McKale Center, and Altman indicated it would be different this time around.
“Sean Miller and Arizona have done an unbelievable job of representing our league and getting our conference recognition this year,” Altman said. “They lost two games at the buzzer and they’re playing really good now. We had a great opportunity to beat them at their place and we didn’t get it done but they’re playing better now so we’re going to have to play a lot better to get ourselves in that position.
“They’re tough and defensive minded. I still think they’re the best team in the country so we’re going to have to really play well. We have to get some help from the crowd but that's not going to affect them. For us to be successful we’re going to have to play through lot of adversity. They’re going to hit a lot more shots than they hit, they’re going to give us problems like they did down there.
“You talk about players who are going to be playing (professionally) for a long time, they’ve got a bunch of them.”