Paul White sees a lesson learned from each of Oregon’s three Pac-12 losses.
The trouble for the Ducks is that they are running low on time to make adjustments and remain in the conference race. Oregon (11-7) has fallen into eighth place in the Pac-12 at 2-3, three games behind first-place Washington (14-4, 5-0), which arrives at Matthew Knight Arena on Thursday at 6 p.m.
“We have to take one step at a time and with these kinds of losses, you have to learn something from them,” White said after Arizona State beat the Ducks 78-64 Saturday night. “We cannot go backwards. That is how you defeat yourself.”
The Ducks rallied from a 18-point deficit before losing a late lead in a 77-72 home loss against Oregon State to open conference play earlier this month.
“I think we started to establish our identity against Oregon State, “ White said.
Five days later, Oregon lost to UCLA at home when it let a nine-point lead get away in the final minute before losing 87-84 in overtime.
“With UCLA, we learned how we need to close games,” White added.
After wins over USC and Arizona evened UO’s conference record, the Ducks built a 54-50 lead in the final nine minutes at ASU before the Sun Devils scored 19 straight points to pull away for a 78-64 win.
“That was about operating in a tough situation and keeping our heads on our shoulders,” White said.
One common denominator in Oregon’s three conference losses has been an opponent shooting better than 50 percent from the field. OSU shot 51 percent, UCLA was at 51.7 and Arizona State shot 51 percent.
“It’s game-to-game,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “In the first two (Pac-12 losses), people got to the rim on us and Kenny (Wooten) not being in there was a big part of it. Until the eight-minute mark against (ASU), we were doing alright because they only had 11 points in 12 minutes there.”
Wooten returned after missing four games with a broken jaw to block two shots and alter a few others in 24 minutes during Thursday’s 59-54 win at Arizona. He picked up two fouls in his first two minutes on the court Saturday and sat out the rest of the first half before playing a total of 14 minutes against the Sun Devils.
“We needed to get a bit more out of him,” Altman said. “I probably should have gone back to him to give him a few more minutes there in the first half to get him involved.”
Wooten matched Louis King as Oregon’s top rebounder during the week with a total of 13 rebounds in 38 minutes against the Wildcats and Sun Devils. He was averaging 8.6 rebounds per 40 minutes in 12 games before the injury.
Wooten’s return gives the Ducks all nine scholarship players who are expected to play for the rest of the season. White injured his ankle early in the second half against ASU, but returned to finish with 12 points and four rebounds.
“It should be fine,” he said. “It happened so fast, I jumped an something felt weird when I came down. I’m sure it will be good.”
Thursday’s meeting with Washington may determine whether Oregon can get back into the race for the Pac-12 championship. With a loss, the Ducks would fall four games back of the Huskies with 12 games left in the regular season.
However, a win gets the Ducks within two losses of teams at the top of the standings as Oregon heads into the softest remaining part of its schedule.
After UW, Oregon hosts Washington State and travels to Utah and Colorado before returning home to play California and Stanford, five teams with a combined conference record of 7-20. That stretch puts the Ducks up against each of the four teams that trails them in the conference, potentially giving UO a shot to move near the top of the standings before going on the road for five of its final seven Pac-12 games.
“We’ve got to continue to develop our team,” Altman said.