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Drukarev: Civil War an absolute must win for women’s basketball

In the lengthy college basketball regular season, it’s usually inappropriate to call any single game a “must win.” Yet I don’t think it’s a stretch to call tomorrow’s home game with Oregon State the closest thing to one for the Ducks’ basketball game.

The second Civil War matchup of the season is the most important regular-season game of the last two years for Oregon. The Ducks are 6-9 with three games left in the conference schedule and a pair of winnable games at Utah and Colorado next week and a win over the Beavers could help vault Oregon to a respectable .500 mark in league play. Such a finish would allow Oregon to avoid Cal and Stanford until later in the Pac-12 tournament, while a few losses could send Oregon reeling to a 10th-place finish. @@[email protected]@

But more importantly, Oregon needs a win over Oregon State for pride. Considering the recent history of the two programs, a third-straight loss to the Beavers would be embarrassing. With a new arena, a high-priced head coach and a strong core of senior leaders, there was optimism that Oregon could make a dramatic improvement from last year’s 4-14 team and possibly finish in the top half of the conference standings. @@[email protected]@

Meanwhile, Oregon State, which finished 2-16 in the Pac-12 last season, is only 20 months removed from the LaVonda Wagner reign of terror that culminated in the firing of the former Beaver coach and multiple player transfers. Wagner, who was accused of being verbally abusive to many players during her five-year tenure in Corvallis, left a cloud over the program that I didn’t think would blow over so soon. @@[email protected]@

Yet in only two seasons at the helm, with a roster full of walk-ons, transfers and underclassmen, Oregon State coach Scott Rueck has miraculously changed the feel and fortunes of the program. Buoyed by a defense-first approach (Oregon State is third in the conference in field-goal percentage defense), the Beavers are 8-7 in Pac-12 play (17-9 overall). When Oregon and Oregon State met earlier this year, Oregon State used a 22-7 run down the stretch to top the Ducks. @@[email protected]@ @@[email protected]@

While Rueck has done a remarkable job and should garner serious consideration for the conference’s Coach of the Year honors, Oregon fans must be wondering how their in-state rivals have surpassed them. From facilities to finances to fan support, Oregon has nearly every discernible edge over Oregon State. Yet Oregon State has produced a superior product. A third-straight loss to the Beavers would widen the once-incomprehensible gap between the two schools. And with Oregon’s three best players set to graduate after this year, it’s hard to envision the Ducks making a dramatic rise next season.

Which is another reason why tomorrow is so important. The Ducks’ three seniors — Jasmin Holliday, Amanda Johnson and Nia Jackson — will take the court in Eugene for the final time in their distinguished careers. If nothing else, the trio deserves a measure of redemption in the rivalry game to cap their time as Oregon Ducks.

Jackson has given her body to Oregon women’s basketball in a way few players have. Despite chronic knee trouble, she has missed only one game this season, a year after making the Pac-12’s first team. Still, it’s hard not think what could have transpired for both Jackson and the Ducks if she stayed healthy. A win over Oregon State would help to at least somewhat ease the frustration.

Like Jackson, Johnson has battled through a variety of ailments in her Duck career. She will leave Eugene as one of the top scorers and rebounders in program history, and a top-notch representative of the school both on and off the court – Jackson is one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award for women’s basketball.

Unlike Jackson and Johnson, Holliday didn’t emerge as a star until this season. While she’s always been a solid and scrappy defensive player, Holliday’s offensive abilities have been on display all season. One of two Ducks to start all 27 of Oregon’s games this season, Holliday leads the team in field-goal percentage (46 percent) and is second in scoring (13.7 points per game). All things considered, she’s probably been the team MVP this season. @@[email protected]@

The seniors, who will go down as one of the best classes in recent program history despite never making an NCAA Tournament appearance, deserve a fitting sendoff in their final game at Matthew Knight Arena. The program desperately needs a win. It all amounts to the rare high-stakes regular-season game, one in which Oregon would be well-served to find a way to win.

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