Oregon began last week as one of the first four teams out of the NCAA Tournament bracket projection by Jerry Palm of CBS Sports.
The Ducks dropped to the next four out of Palm’s bracket before Saturday’s 72-57 loss at Oregon State that may have moved Oregon to officially out of contention for an at-large bid in the NCAA field.
Oregon fell to 15-10 while dropping to No. 69 in the Net rankings used by the NCAA selection committee. The Ducks sit eighth in the Pac-12 at 6-6 as they head on the road for two of the final three weekends of the regular season.
The best overall record that UO could post for an at-large bid is 23-11 and even that seems unlikely to get the Ducks into the tournament considering the weak state of the Pac-12. Washington is the only team remaining on the schedule that is listed ahead of Oregon in the Net rankings.
“In the locker room we have to band together still,” Oregon senior forward Paul White said. “We have six regular season games and then a huge part of our season which is the conference tournament.”
Winning the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas appears to be Oregon’s only opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament. UO coach Dana Altman was asked on Saturday if securing one of the four first-round byes in the event that runs March 13-16 at T-Mobile Arena is the goal at this point in the season.
“The goal is to go Thursday and play USC and play better than tonight,” he responded. “That’s the only goal I’ve got.”
Oregon heads to USC (14-12, 7-6) Thursday at 6 p.m. where a win would move the Ducks up at least one spot in the standings. Oregon visits UCLA (13-13, 6-7) on Saturday at 7 p.m. for what currently sets up as a first-round matchup at the Pac-12 tournament between the eighth and ninth seeds.
The Ducks are 1 1/2 games out of the fourth and final spot for a first-round bye.
“You take (first-place) Washington and (last-place) Cal out of the equation and everyone is probably thinking about finishing strong and getting a little momentum going into the tournament,” Altman said last week. “If you look at each of the teams, there are different schedules.”
Oregon and Oregon State play four of their final six games on the road while seven other schools competing for a top-four finish have five games remaining.
“We try to take it one game at a time because when we start looking at things in groups or clusters, that is when we start to overwhelm ourselves,” White said.
UCLA, Stanford, Colorado, and Arizona all have three of five games left on the schedule at home while USC, Utah, and Arizona State go on the road for three of the final five games. Home teams are 42-34 in Pac-12 games this season.
“It does seem like more road teams are winning games,” Altman noted.
Oregon is 2-3 away from Matthew Knight Arena in conference play after losing back-to-back road games at Colorado and Oregon State by an average of 18.5 points.
“We’ve won a couple on the road and there have been a couple where we haven’t played well,” Altman said. “That is part of growing up as a team. We have four of six on the road so we are going to have to do a good job. We haven’t played that well at home sometimes too, but we have got to play better on the road.”
Oregon’s final two home games are against Arizona State and Arizona before finishing up the regular season at Washington State and Washington.
“I think we are talented enough, but we have got to be much more disciplined,” Altman said. “I’ve got to do a better job pushing them because obviously they are not responding to what we are trying to do.”
Louis King and White combined for 32 of Oregon’s 57 points against OSU on 21 combined shots from the field. Payton Pritchard and Kenny Wooten, who rank second and fifth, respectively, on the team in scoring, combined for eight points on six shots from the field.
Pritchard was coming off back-to-back 20-point games in home wins over California and Stanford before going 1-for-4 in 38 minutes against the Beavers. Three of his four attempts were 3-pointers.
“We didn’t get him enough shots and that is my fault,” Altman said. “We need to get him more shots whether that is in transition or running more stuff for him, he has to shoot more than four times.”
Wooten was 1-for-2 from the field, his fewest attempts in the past eight games.
“Kenny simply has to want the ball more,” Altman said.
White said Altman recently gave each player areas to work on improvement, noting that the coach’s request for him was to be more of a vocal leader.
“Now we have to change some things going forward,” White said. “Require more out of certain players … We need some more out of everyone.”