At this point in the season, Oregon needs to do one thing above all else: Win.
The Ducks did just that on Sunday, completing a sweep of the Washington schools for Oregon’s first weekend sweep of conference opponents this season. What’s more, is that it seems that Oregon has bounced back from its debilitating loss to Stanford last week and gained some much-needed momentum heading into its toughest, and most critical, stretch of the season.
“I’d definitely say we’re jelling more,” Payton Pritchard said. “We kind of moved past the bad loss to Stanford. So we’re making strides.”
With the weekend sweep, Oregon moved into a tie for fourth place in the conference and mightily improved its resume. The blowout win over Washington is arguably the Ducks’ best win of the year.
But Oregon knows it’s not the time to celebrate. Now, it’s time to dig in.
With six games left, Oregon, which is looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight season, will face all five Pac-12 teams with legitimate shots at making the tourney. It’s easily the toughest stretch of Oregon’s season, but that actually plays into Oregon’s favor.
Oregon needs quality wins right now. The Ducks are currently 77th in RPI (per ESPN), a ranking system that the selection committee uses to determine who makes the NCAA Tournament. While the Ducks did jump double-digit spots this weekend, wins over teams like Washington State (179th in RPI) don’t help the Ducks much.
But wins over teams like UCLA and USC, ranked 53rd and 47th in RPI respectively, will. The Ducks will head down to Southern California to play those two next week.
“Going into LA, we’re really going to need to be together,” Pritchard said. “We need to win both, to be quite honest, so we really need to work hard in practice this week and get ready for those two games. … This next trip, LA, will define our destiny in the Pac-12 race.”
The road only gets tougher after that trip. Oregon hosts the Arizona schools (Arizona is 19th and Arizona State 27th) the following weekend before traveling to face the Washington schools (Washington is 45th in RPI) to cap conference play.
“It gives us a really good opportunity because I think the five teams they’re talking about being in the NCAA Tournament, we got each one of them one time,” head coach Dana Altman said.
As of Sunday, the Pac-12 has five teams in position for spots in the tourney according to Joe Lunardi’s bracketology. No. 13 Arizona is the only for sure thing and is currently projected as a four seed. Arizona State is the other probable lock, although after starting the season 12-0 and reaching No. 3 in the AP Poll, the Sun Devils have lost six of their 13 conference games and have dropped from the AP Top 25 altogether. The three other candidates are USC, UCLA and Washington, and are all currently bubble teams.
Oregon is on the outside looking in and knows what’s at stake with these remaining games. With three weeks left in conference play, the Ducks are in true do or die mode if they want an at-large bid. Oregon knows it has a chance and that it won’t be easy by any means.
“We’re going to have our shot,” Altman said. “We’ll see if we’re tough enough and together enough to take advantage of it.”
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris
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