Men's BasketballSports

Oregon enters final stretch seeking first Pac-12 regular season title since 2002

The end is nearing for the No. 13 ranked Oregon men’s basketball team (21-6, 10-4 Pac-12). The Ducks are currently tied with Arizona for first in the conference and have four games remaining on their regular season schedule. If it comes down to it, Oregon would hold the tiebreaker against Arizona, having won their only meeting of the year.

The Pac-12 tournament, which will be held in Las Vegas, Nevada at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, will begin on March 9.

With the postseason in sight and the number of guaranteed games dwindling, seniors like Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin — both of whom transferred from junior colleges — have naturally begun to reflect on their time at Oregon.

“I was just talking to Dwyane about that earlier,” Cook, who transferred from Northwest Florida State in 2012, said. “(When) I came on my visit, I saw all the facilities and they were amazing. (I’d) never seen a place like this and it was a no brainer as soon as I got here.”

“It’s been coming closer and closer and now it’s here,” Benjamin, who transferred from Mt. San Jacinto college last year, said. “I’m thankful for it. (I’m) just trying to be more involved with the team because (I) won’t be (here) much longer.

Having played on last year’s NCAA tournament team that eventually lost to Wisconsin 72-65 in the round of 32, both were adamant about making this final push the strongest of the season.

“Right now, we’re just trying to achieve our goal, which is to win the Pac-12,” Benjamin said. “We’re just trying to win game by game.”

This is a crucial time for Dana Altman and his players for two reasons: A Pac-12 regular season title is on the line — something Oregon hasn’t won since 2002 — and the do-or-die portion of the season is also nearing.

“(It would mean) a lot,” Benjamin said about winning the Pac-12 regular season title. “It hasn’t happened much here. Just to bring something new to the program, to show the program is on the uprise, that would mean a lot.”

Soon enough, after the Pac-12 tournament, no games will be guaranteed.

“Once the tournament comes around, any day could be the last day,” Benjamin said. “Just to play in these ones that we have guaranteed, it just means a little bit more right now.”

Altman’s recipe for success will be no different, though: The Ducks plan to build off gritty defensive play and thrive on activity in the rebounds department.

“We got to remain consistent,” Altman said. “We can’t get high, we can’t get low. I don’t think you can change your approach day-to-day in such a long season. You got to stay fairly consistent and hope the results are fairly consistent.”

The second to last home game will be tonight against Washington State, a team that has yet to win on the road and is experiencing its worst overall skid in 13 years. Ranked last in the conference standings, the Cougars have lost 13 straight heading into this matchup.

“They play hard, they got a lot of scorers and they got the best rebounder in the league in Hawkinson,” Benjamin said. “We’re going to have to rebound and our defense is going to have to be up.”

Oregon’s focus will primarily be on junior forward Josh Hawkinson. Hawkinson, who is one of the best rebounders in the conference, averages 15.4 points and 10.8 rebounds. Last season, he combined for 40 points and 24 rebounds against Oregon in two meetings.

For Oregon, keep a close eye on freshman guard Tyler Dorsey who tied his career-high of 25 points against Oregon State last game.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and will be aired on the Pac-12 Networks.

“We’ve experienced some lapses in intensity and focus and we haven’t been very successful when we’ve done that,” Altman said. “We’ve got to make sure that we get ready to play.”

Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim

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Hayden Kim

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