The Pac-12 men’s basketball standings have developed North and South divisions.
The top half of the conference has separated itself with six teams within one game of each other heading into the final three weeks of the regular season. The bottom six teams have all played their way out of title contention and are likely slotting for position on the first day of the conference tournament next month in Las Vegas.
Oregon moved back into a tie for first place with Colorado at 9-4 following a 80-62 win over Utah Sunday night at Matthew Knight Arena. The Ducks, who moved up three spots to No. 14 in the AP poll on Monday, go on the road next week to face Arizona State and No. 24 Arizona, who are tied for third at 8-4.
“Those will be like (NCAA) Tournament games so we need to gear up and be ready,” said Oregon guard Payton Pritchard, who scored 25 against the Utes.
Colorado returns home to host USC and UCLA, who are tied for fifth at 8-5.
“There are a lot of games with those six teams being played against each other,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “You are going to have to play your best down the stretch and win on the road if you are going to win it. It will be an interesting last three weeks.”
Oregon split its first three conference road trips and fell to 3-4 away from Matthew Knight Arena in Pac-12 play with a loss to Oregon State on Feb. 8.
“We’ve won a couple on the road, but not played well,” Altman said. “There is no sense dancing around it, we are going to have to play better and more competitive with more energy on the road. The way things are shaping up this year, the Arizona trip is as tough of a road trip as there is. We are going to have to bring it.”
Oregon finishes the regular season at home during the final two weeks against Oregon State, California, and Stanford, which all have a losing record in conference play. The Ducks are 14-0 at home after sweeping the weekend beginning with a 68-60 win over Colorado.
“These two games were must-wins to keep us in the hunt for a conference championship,” said Pritchard, who helped the Ducks win a conference crown during his freshman season.
With 20 wins, Oregon looks like a lock for the NCAA Tournament along with Colorado and Arizona. USC and Arizona State have likely played their way into the field for now, but remain on the bubble while UCLA probably has to win the conference title or tournament to reach the NCAA tourney. Two of those six teams will not get a bye in the first round of the conference tournament.
Oregon has not allowed more than 63 points in any of its past three games.
“We try to keep teams below 70, that is the goal, and we did that,” UO sophomore center Francis Okoro said after he had six points and four rebounds in the win over Utah. “When we play good defense, we have a chance to win the game.”
Oregon would put itself in prime position for a Pac-12 title by sweeping the Arizona schools as they did at home last month, but even a split gives them a good shot to take the title as they return home to finish out the schedule.
“It will be a real tough week,” Altman said. “We are going to have to guard because both of those teams can score. We got them bot here, but we are going to have to play with tremendous energy on the road. We haven’t played with the same energy on the road. You look up and down college basketball and it is a home-court sport. The numbers don’t lie. We’ve got to find a way on the road to play two good teams and that will be the challenge this week.”
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