If Oregon wins at Washington State on Wednesday night, the Ducks would move within one-half game of the fourth and final first-round bye in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament.
The Ducks will then watch the rest of the teams they are battling for that spot play once or twice before visiting Washington at 7 p.m. Saturday in the final conference game of the regular season. By the time tipoff comes against the Huskies at Alaska Airlines Arena, the other 10 teams will have posted their final records and Oregon will know what is on the line against the conference champions.
“We have talked about finishing strong and putting ourselves in position, but there are a lot of factors this week we have no control over,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “I don’t know even if we won both games if we would get a bye. I think the guys know we want to finish strong and having some momentum going into the tournament would be advantageous for us. … We have to see what happens with the other games. There are so many teams clustered in there you can’t even figure the tiebreakers out.”
Oregon (17-12) is in a three-way tie for sixth place at 8-8 with Oregon State, UCLA and Utah all tied for third at 9-7. The Ducks could finish as high as third with a sweep this week depending on what else happens around the conference or drop down as far as the No. 10 seed in the conference tournament.
“Play the games and whatever happens, happens,” Oregon freshman Francis Okoro said. “Hopefully get two wins because we really need those two games.”
Oregon has won its past four home games, including a sweep of Arizona State and Arizona last week by a combined score of 152-98. The Ducks have dropped four straight road games by an average margin of 15.3 points.
“We have had some good efforts at home, but we sure haven’t put that kind of effort in for 40 minutes or close to that on the road,” Altman said. “Forty minutes of defense, that’s the biggest thing. Forty minutes of board play. On the offensive end, we have to keep moving the ball. Defense and rebounding is what keyed those wins. That should be able to travel if you have intensity and leadership and guys make that determination.”
Washington State (11-8, 4-12) has lost three straight, including a 48-point defeat at Stanford last week followed by a loss at last-place California.
The Cougars are averaging 76.0 points per game but rank last in the conference by allowing 78.5. WSU has made a conference-high 276 3-pointers while shooting 36.8 percent behind the arc.
“Washington State can really score and we found that out the first time we played them,” Altman said. “We couldn’t stop them. They shot 74 percent from the field in the first half.”
The Cougars led Oregon 39-35 at halftime before the Ducks outscored them 43-19 in the second half. Senior forward Robert Franks, who leads the Pac-12 with 21.8 points per game, made all six shots he took for 15 points in the first half before going 2-for-7 in the second half to finish with 19 points.
“He’s a very good athlete and that helps him a lot,” Altman said. “He has developed his game a lot in four years to become a big-time player.”