Oregon (14-5, 2-5 Pac-12) desperately needed a win Sunday after losing five straight games, and they delivered big with a 71-44 win over the Washington State Cougars. This five-game skid now has the Ducks playing a game of catch up in the Pac-12 standings at six games back, out of the AP top-25 and unseen in many NCAA Tournament projections.
Now, it’s time to find out whether Sunday’s performance was a preview of what to expect for the remainder of the season, or just a reflection of the sub-par play of WSU.
They get a much tougher opponent Thursday to test it on, when the UCLA Bruins (16-4, 5-2 Pac-12) travel north to Matt Knight Arena.
UCLA is coming off two quality wins against Stanford and California. The Bruins have been one of the top offensive teams in the country this season with 84.3 points per game and a .500 field goal percentage, good for 10th and 7th in the nation, respectively.
They also came within four points of beating the nation’s top squad, Arizona (20-0, 7-0 Pac-12), on Jan. 9, making their argument to be the second-best team in the conference. For Oregon, this is just the type of game they must win to regain the confidence of the team that began the season 13-0.
On Sunday, the Duck defense held the Cougars to just 10 made field goals and 25 percent shooting, after allowing their opponent to shoot over 45 percent in the previous five games, all of Oregon’s losses. They controlled the inside on both sides of the ball by the outrebounding Washington State 43-24, and accumulating a 28-2 advantage on points in the paint.
Defensive effectiveness and production down low are key aspects Oregon must continue to improve in if they want to have a chance to win games down the stretch. All season they have struggled when matched up against premier shooting teams, ones with superstars in particular.
Stopping Bruins’ sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams is the key for the Ducks in the matchup Thursday. Both are extremely talented offensive players than can score points on any defense in the country.
Anderson is averaging 15.5 points per game and nine rebounds, while Jordan Adams leads the team with 17.3 points per game and 5.5 assists. The backcourt will have their hands full, but with the amount of depth Oregon offers, they should have enough stamina to contain UCLA’s stars.
Currently, the Ducks sit at No. 39 in the RPI rankings and No. 27 in the BPI. After the UCLA tilt, Oregon will have one more game at home, against USC (10-10, 1-6 Pac-12), before they travel to Arizona to play the Wildcats and Sun Devils.
Of the four games ahead, three of the teams are in the top five of the Pac-12 standings. The Ducks will play each of those teams twice in the remaining 11 games this season.
These games will be tough, but they are much needed to regain momentum and attention from voters as the madness of March is now just a month away.
Top Photo By Kevin Cline