Better late than never.
After struggling through conference play for most of the season, two weeks ago Oregon found itself sitting at 6-8 and in 10th place, following a heart-breaking loss to UCLA in which the Ducks led by 19 points.
In Oregon remaining four conference games, they would be taking on the Pac-12’s first and second place teams, as well as an Arizona squad appearing to find its form.
That proved to be no problem as the Ducks have turned their fortunes, most recently in a 55-47 over first-place Washington Saturday night. Oregon’s defense has been the reason for the turnaround, holding Washington 33.3-percent (16-of-48) from the floor and 15-percent (3-for-20).
"I wish we would have done it a little earlier, but the guys have really connected defensively, talking and flying around," Altman said. "Defensively we've been a lot better. A lot better connection, not making nearly as many mistakes."
Oregon now sits at 10-8 in conference play and has earned the No. 6 seed in next week’s Pac-12 tournament — but might be the most dangerous team thanks to its recent four-game winning streak in which they’ve held opponents to an average of 51.5 points per game on 34.7-percent shooting.
"We already had our momentum… we just keep increasing," Oregon’s Payton Pritchard said. "We made a change since the UCLA game. The last five games, we've played one bad half of basketball and that was the second half of UCLA. After that we've been stellar."
The game was slow-going in the beginning, but a three-pointer by Washington’s Matisse Thybulle cut Oregon’s lead to 8-6 five minutes in.
The Ducks then opened up the game with a 16-2 run over the next 10 minutes. Paul White had seven points during the run while Pritchard’s three-pointer capped it off.
An offensive lull by both teams resulted in a scoreless three minutes but White and Pritchard both picked up their second fouls of the game and checked with around three minutes go — and the Huskies responded with a 10-3 run to end the half as Noah Dickerson (14 points, 16 rebounds) asserted his will in the post with six points.
The second half was all about Oregon beating away Washington’s mini runs and never letting the Huskies pull even.
Jaylen Nowell pulled the Huskies within three early in the half but Pritchard’s corner three-pointer on the ensuing possession gave the Ducks some breathing room.
The same thing happened when a three-point play by Washington cut Oregon’s lead to 37-34 with 11 minutes to go but Miles Norris and Pritchard responded with their own and-one’s to complete the 6-0 run.
Nowell would later bring Washington back with another and-one but the Ducks followed it up with another Pritchard three-pointer before Louis King’s layup made it 48-40 with 5:12 remaining.
Oregon wasn’t done yet, having to defend one last Huskies run.
After its lead was cut to 48-44 with 3:40 remaining, Pritchard would sink two free throws on the ensuing possession after King grabbed an offensive rebound. The Ducks then forced a turnover on the next possession before King threw up a deep three-pointer to beat the shot clock that found nothing but net — leading to the win and the momentum heading into Las Vegas next week.
“We have confidence going to Vegas,” Oregon’s Francis Okoro (nine points, 10 rebounds) said. “It is all about staying focused and lifting each other up… I believe in my teammates. If we keep playing the way we played tonight, I think we’ve got a chance.”
Pritchard led Oregon with 16 points, five steals and three assists while White added 10 points, all in the first half. King finished with seven points, all of which came after the break.
Nowell finished with a game-high 17 points while Thybulle added six points, five steals and three blocks in his final performance before possibly being named as the Pac-12 player of the year.
Oregon now turns its attention to Washington State, the conference’s No. 11 seed. The Ducks will tipoff with the Cougars, whom they’re 2-0 against this season, at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday night.