The Pac-12 Conference men's basketball schedule favors Oregon down the stretch of a tight title race.
The 14th-ranked Ducks (21-7, 10-5 Pac-12) finish the regular season with three straight home games against teams in the bottom half of the standings, beginning against Oregon State (15-12, 5-10) at 8 p.m. Thursday.
The Ducks are tied for second place in the conference with Colorado and UCLA, one-half game back of Arizona State, which is 10-4. Arizona is fifth at 9-5, making the Pac-12 the only conference in the country with the top five teams separated by one game.
“It should be a couple interesting weeks,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “UCLA plays the Arizona schools this week, so somebody has to lose. We have our work cut out for us. Colorado goes on the road for three. It will be a hectic last couple weeks here.”
Arizona and Arizona State visit UCLA and USC this week before finishing up at home against the Washington schools. Colorado visits the Bay Area schools before finishing up at Utah.
Oregon, which is 14-0 at Matthew Knight Arena this season, hosts OSU, California and Stanford, a trio with a combined conference record of 17-26.
“We’ve let a couple games slip and we’ve won four conference games in overtime, so we’ve been a little lucky there,” Altman said. “We are going to really have to bear down in the last three games and make something happen. I think the guys realize that, but we will have to wait and see.”
Two of Oregon’s conference losses came at Oregon State and Stanford.
“We know it is not going to be easy,” Altman said. “We’ve got to make these games as big for us as they are for our opponents.”
Oregon State has won three straight against Oregon, including a 63-53 win in Corvallis less than three weeks ago.
“We don’t want to let that happen again,” Oregon senior point guard Payton Pritchard said. “We know we have to take care of business and get this one.”
Oregon did not have 6-foot-11 freshman N’Faly Dante for the first matchup with OSU, but he is expected to return from a nine-game absence due to tendinitis. Altman said that Dante has practiced this week and could see a few minutes in each half against the Beavers.
“He’s someone that you can throw it into at the post and get a bucket,” Pritchard said. “He’s got a big body and long arms. He will affect people going to the rim, it won’t be an easy shot.”
Oregon went more than nine minutes without a basket in the first meeting with the Beavers and shot 40.0% for the game. Oregon was also missing Francis Okoro in that game after he returned home to Nigeria for his father’s funeral.
“They beat us 13-4 in second-chance points and Francis helps us there,” Altman said. “His physicality has helped us.”