Paul White noted that Oregon is playing as well as it has all season on defense.
Ehab Amin added that the Ducks are as together as they have been all year.
Dana Altman also tossed out a superlative about Oregon’s cohesion following Saturday’s 73-47 win over Arizona in front of 11,339 at Matthew Knight Arena.
“Tonight was our best night of the season, even better than Thursday,” the coach said. “There was really a connection with all the guys.”
So what took so long?
“It is March,” Amin said. “Everyone came here for a reason. It is sad that we got so close this late, but it is not too late.”
The Ducks talked about building momentum heading into the Pac-12 Tournament in two weeks and backed it up by sweeping the Arizona schools by a combined margin of 54 points. The cautionary tale came when Altman pointed out that the Ducks swept California and Stanford on their last homestead and then went on the road to lose three straight games.
Oregon (17-12) moved into a sixth-place tie in the conference at 8-8 as they head to Washington State and Washington to close out the regular season. The Ducks put themselves back into the mix for a first-round bye in the conference tournament by moving within one game of fourth place.
“We can be a very hard team to face and over the last two games we proved that,” White said. “It’s about taking it on the road and we have to find the same things that work for us and use them to our advantage on the road.”
The Ducks showed off as much depth as they have all season with eight players spending at least 15 minutes on the court and all nine regulars scoring at least four points.
Louis King had 14 points, seven rebounds, and four assists to help Oregon get its best combined game from the freshman class since Bol Bol was lost for the season due to injury.
Francis Okoro had 10 points and seven rebounds to cap a weekend with 17 points and 17 rebounds. Will Richardson had 12 points while Miles Norris added five points and three rebounds.
Oregon trailed 14-12 before Altman put those four freshmen on the court with Amin and the Ducks followed with 13 straight points.
“Those guys love playing with energy,” Amin said. “Miles was great for us early in the game and Lou was great. Francis was on the boards again and that was huge. We saw what the first group didn’t capitalize on and coach told us what to do and we did a good job with energy and using the crowd to our advantage.”
Arizona tied the game 31-31 at the half, but Oregon scored 12 straight points to take a 45-35 lead and when the Wildcats got within 51-42, the Ducks went on another 12-0 run to put the game away.
Arizona was 7-for-12 on 3-pointers in the first half, but made 5-of-26 shots from the field in the second half as Oregon outscored the Wildcats 42-16.
“Their defense, it continued to be good as they subbed,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Their depth really wore us down today. They overwhelmed us.”
The Wildcats shot 31.3 percent from the field after Arizona State shot 32.1 percent on Thursday. Oregon’s 11 steals accounted for most of Arizona’s 15 turnovers that led to 15 points for the Ducks.
“We are starting to see what kind of defensive team we could be,” White said. “This week we were on the same page defensively and it carried over to every facet of the game.”
Dylan Smith led Arizona with 14 points while making 5-of-14 shots from the field. Brandon Randolph, who lead the Wildcats with 13.1 points per game, had three points while going 1-for-9 from the field.
“Defensively, we have been talking a lot more in the last few games,” Amin said. “We have done a better job adjusting when we make a couple mistakes. Early in the year we would get down 15 or 20 before we would adjust and now after a play or two, we don’t make the same mistakes.”
Oregon beat the Wildcats in every statistical category except rebounds where the Ducks went plus-eight in the second half to finish the game tied 36-36. The Ducks had a season-low three turnovers and outscored Arizona 36-14 in the paint.
“We wore down,” Miller said. “When Ryan Luther picked up his fourth foul in the middle of the second half, any chance we had physically left us.”