No. 7 Oregon has hit its stride. The defense has been dominant and the offense has been buzzing.
About the only negative that can be said about the Ducks this season is that they have lost four games away from Matthew Knight Arena.
"We need to figure out how to stay focused on the road and not have letdowns," senior forward Chris Boucher told reporters on Tuesday.
Yes, but lamenting that is nitpicking of the highest order.
Oregon (24-4, 13-2 Pac-12) plays at California (18-8, 9-5) tonight in the final real "test" of the regular season. It's a "test" only because the game will be played away from Matthew Knight Arena where the Ducks enjoy a nation-leading, 41-game home winning streak. The Ducks squished Cal at home by the score of 86-43 on Jan. 19. None of Oregon's final games of the season should be much trouble. Not Cal, and certainly not games at Stanford (13-13, 5-9) and Oregon State (5-23, 1-14).
But if we were to search for a game that could hold some intrigue it would be tonight's 6 p.m. contest.
"Cal is fighting for an NCAA berth and they'll give us everything," UO coach Dana Altman told reporters.
For that reason, UO should at least be leery. Still, if the Ducks are expecting to make a run at a national title they should be able to handle Cal in any arena. Yes, Cal does have size.
"Cal killed us with (19) offensive rebounds last time," Altman said.
Oregon had just 18 defensive rebounds.
Nevertheless, Oregon won that game in blowout fashion. That said, Cal is a different team at home where its only two losses this season have come against No. 18 Virginia and No. 4 Arizona (25-3, 14-1).
Let's get back to that home-away thing. Oregon's home vs. road play is slightly skewed. The Ducks are undefeated at home, which makes the four road losses appear glaring. If Oregon had two home losses and two road losses, nobody would care. So let's examine the team's four losses away from MKA.
- Oregon lost at No. 9 Baylor without Dillon Brooks. Excusable.
- The Ducks lost to Georgetown at the Maui Invitational the day Brooks returned to action. Hey, any loss in Hawaii is understandable.
- The loss at Colorado (16-12, 6-9) could be viewed as just one of those nights, but that was at least a questionable loss.
- Losing 82-79 at No. 5 UCLA (24-3, 11-3) two weeks ago was more than respectable.
So, that's one questionable loss out of four. Not bad. For the Ducks to avoid a fifth loss away from MKA they must find the defensive mojo they seem to enjoy at home.
"We have had some great spurts on the road with our defense, but we haven't done it for long enough periods of time," Altman said.
Junior guard Casey Benson told reporters that the defensive energy must be produced from within because the home fans won't be able to give the team a boost.
"We just have to pick each other up and bring our own energy," Benson said.
From here on out the Ducks won't be able to rely on the home crowd to help them. So tonight is a good of a night as any for the Ducks to show that they don't need to play at home to be consistently dominant.