Oregon is trying to ignore any what-could-have-been thoughts on its season.
What if the only two five-star recruits to sign with UO in the same season played more than two games together? Instead, Louis King missed the first seven games while recovering from knee surgery and two games after his return, Bol Bol was lost for the season with a broken foot.
Given a schedule that opened Pac-12 play with three straight home games, the Ducks led Oregon State, UCLA, and USC in the final minute. However, Oregon let two late leads get away before blowing away the Trojans for a 1-2 start to Pac-12 play.
“Yeah, it would have been nice to be 3-0 now especially with that UCLA game,” said UO senior Paul White, referring to an 87-84 overtime loss to the Bruins on Thursday when Oregon let a nine-point lead get away in the final 51 seconds. “That is something that coach talks to us about. You can’t change what is in the past but just worry about what is in front of you.”
Oregon also looks back with regret on a home loss to 25-point underdog Texas Southern in November. The Ducks dug double-digit halftime deficits in losses to Iowa, Houston, and Baylor before outscoring all three opponents in the second half.
The injuries and defeats have taken the Ducks from a team picked to win the Pac-12 and ranked as high No. 13 in an early-season poll to No. 84 in the NCAA’s new Net rankings and nearly out of contention for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. Oregon’s NCAA hopes likely come down to getting Kenny Wooten back from injury and trying to build momentum in the second half to make a run at winning the Pac-12 Tournament.
Next up for Oregon (10-6, 1-2) is what appears to be its toughest road trip in the Pac-12 with a game at Arizona (13-4, 4-0) on Thursday followed by a trip to Arizona State (11-5, 2-2) on Saturday. The Wildcats and Sun Devils join Washington as the only conference teams that seem to have a shot at an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
The Ducks moved past the collapse against UCLA and avoided dropping three straight home games to begin conference play with a wire-to-wire 81-60 victory over USC on Sunday. The Ducks shot 55.8 percent from the field, including a season-high 13 three-pointers, while outrebounding the Trojans 35-24.
“We want to take this energy into Arizona and Arizona State,” sophomore guard Victor Bailey said. “Coach talks about keeping our energy up so a win like this is good for us to have a lead like this. We need to push and keep our foot on the pedal.”
White is shooting 18-for-34 from the field and 6-of-12 on three-pointers while averaging 16.7 points in three conference games to boost his scoring average from to 9.0 to 10.4.
“I have started to look for more shots than just a three-pointer or post-up,” he said. “The in-between game and sometimes putting the ball on the floor has been the difference.”
King is UO’s leading scorer in Pac-12 games at 19.3 points per game while shooting 23-for-48 from the field and 9-for-22 on three-pointers. His season average has risen from 6.8 to 11.0 points per game while leading the Ducks with 5.7 rebounds per game.
King was nominated for Pac-12 player of the week on Monday.
“Lou has been great ever since he came back from injury,” White said. “People are starting to see the talent he is. The steps he has taken since coming back from injury, he had a great attitude. He is more than capable of continuing to produce.”
Three days after blowing the largest last-minute lead in Pac-12 history, the Ducks built a 26-point lead over USC before winning by 21.
“I was pleased with the way we bounced back,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “We took a punch together and the way we came back was good.”
Now the Ducks hit the road for the first time in conference play.
“We have the Arizona schools and we will rely on our coaches to draw up a good game plan and execute as well as we can,” White said. “As long as we play hard and make plays for each other, we have to be happy with the results.”