Oregon’s bid to the NCAA Tournament begins tonight when the Ducks (19-12) face off against Washington State (11-20) in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament — tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. and will air on the Pac-12 Network from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“We’re taking it one at a time, but we definitely want to win all the games that we play," forward Kenny Wooten said. “We want to keep on playing, see if we could potentially get in the (NCAA) Tournament… that’s our whole goal.”
Oregon finds itself in the same situation as last year, as the No. 6 seed and facing the No. 11 Cougars in the first round — . Also, if the Ducks are to win, they’ll face No. 3 Utah in the quarterfinals, which is where their season ended a year ago.
It’s been an up-and-down year for Oregon, as a massive amount of injuries combined with poor timing and the inability to close out games had the Ducks always on their heels.
Oregon’s five-star center Bol Bol began his career in dominating fashion, averaging 21 points and 9.6 rebounds in nine games. But a foot injury forced him to have surgery and miss the remainder of the season.
Around the same time, Oregon’s other five-star recruit Louis King was just returning from a 12-month recovery following a series knee injury. It may have taken around a month before King truly felt comfortable on the court and began to produce at the level many expected of him.
Wooten one of the best defensive players in the country, missed the first three games on conference play with a broken jaw. Paul White, the team’s third leading scorer at 10.6 ppg, has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury throughout conference play, making his practice participation extremely limited.
Despite the Ducks 10-8 conference record, they’ve suffered four losses in which they held the lead within the final two minutes. Oregon also boasts wins over Washington and Arizona State, the top teams in the conference, and rides a four-game winning streak into the conference tournament.
“Obviously, we want to make the (NCAA) Tournament,” guard Payton Pritchard said. “This is the tournament for us right now… we have to play four more extra games; it’s what it is.”
The Ducks are already 2-0 against first-round foe Washington State, including a 72-61 win one week ago in Pullman.
The Cougars, although the No. 11 seed, will provide the Ducks with a stiff test as Robert Franks (Pac-12 leading 22.1 ppg) and CJ Elleby (14.9 ppg) could go off at any second and spark Washington State to a win.
“They’re a very good offensive team. Franks can really score; He’s as good a scorer as there is in the league… got to make sure we don’t let those guys get going,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “It’ll be very important that defensively we’re ready to play... they like to get up and down and they can really score, they shoot a lot of threes. Hopefully we’ll be able to get back, get our defense together.”
A positive for the Ducks is that their four-game winning streak has derived from its success on the defensive side of the ball. Oregon is holding opponents to 51.5 points per game and 34.7-percent shooting from the floor.