Oregon Ducks head to California with season on the line

Oregon Ducks head to California with season on the line
February 25, 2014, 7:45 pm
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Young: importance of the next 4 games

The reality of the Oregon Ducks’ current predicament is not found within their seemingly strong 18-8 record, their gaudy scoring numbers or their current three-game winning streak.

Instead it’s defined by their place in the Pac-12 standings: 9th.

As in, only three teams reside below the Ducks.

That’s a sobering reality for a team fighting for a berth into the NCAA Tournament given that there’s no way nine teams from this relatively weak conference with one ranked team are going to be invited.

So with just four conference games remaining on the Ducks’ schedule, it behooves them to at all costs climb as high up in the standings as possible.

To do that, Oregon must continue winning and continue doing so by getting victories over teams with winning conference records, something Oregon has yet to do this season.

“I think the guys know what the big picture is,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “I don’t think I need to explain it to them. They’ve been pretty good about one ‘game at a time.’ They know how important the last four games are.”

Yes, they do. But guard Joseph Young said the team shouldn’t worry too much about the tournament right now.

“We’ve just got to focus on the game,” he said. “We can’t be too much bought in about what they’re saying about the bracketology.”

Oregon is 6-8 in conference after going on their first three-game, conference-winning streak of the season. But all six victories have come against teams with losing records within the conference.

The Ducks, starting Thursday at UCLA (21-6, 10-4), now venture back into the upper crust of the conference with three games against teams above .500 in Pac-12 play: the Bruins, No. 3 Arizona (25-2, 12-2) and Arizona State (19-8, 8-6).

On Saturday, Oregon plays at USC (10-17, 1-13).

Giving Oregon confidence it can pull off a four-game sweep to end the season is the fact that it has already blasted the Trojans (78-66) and lost to each of the other three opponents by only two points.

That reality gives a bit more juice to the team’s heightened sense of urgency that they are in do-or-die mode.

“We’re definitely going in there with that mentality,” forward Mike Moser said. “We want to put that pressure on ourselves to kind of rise to the occasion.”

UCLA is up first. The Bruins are big inside where the Ducks are small. UCLA plays solid defense, where the Ducks are weak. And the Bruins can score from all over the court with a variety of players, just like Oregon can.

“Every guy they have has the potential to have a big game offensively…” Altman said. “We’re going to have our hands full. We know that. We’re going to have to play our A-game.”

Doing so will mean Moser must show up against the team he signed with coming out of Grant High School in 2009.

In the first meeting between the two teams earlier this season, won 70-68 by UCLA in Eugene, Moser played his worst game of the season. He missed his only two shot attempts and committed five turnovers while scoring zero points and grabbing zero rebounds in 14 minutes.

“I’m not sure what happened there with Mike that game,” Altman said. “He just really had a bad game.”

Moser blamed being overly aggressive early and picking up three fouls.

“So I never really caught a rhythm to the flow for the game,” Moser said.

The Ducks have struggled to win when either Moser or Young plays poorly.

The same will probably hold true at UCLA.

And the Ducks can ill-afford sub-par performances by key players with the post-season hanging in the balance.

“Kind of playing for our lives right now,” Loyd said. “Survive and advance type deal. It’s kind of like every game is a tournament game from here on out.”