Men's BasketballSports

Ducks trending upward after win over Arizona State

The Ducks have their backs against a wall and they know it. Yet, at the same time, they’re playing their best basketball of the season.

Funny what a little pressure can do.

With their win over Arizona State on Thursday, Oregon suddenly looks like a team poised to make a run in the Pac-12 Tournament in two weeks. While the sweep to the LA schools definitely hurt, Oregon’s five games since getting embarrassed by Stanford highlighted a team full of previously unseen energy and intensity. With their NCAA Tournament hopes hanging by threads, Oregon has suddenly found its spark with the conference tournament looming.

Finally, they can feel the pieces fitting into place.

“Coach talks about it, he said we’re close,” Elijah Brown said. “He can feel it.”

On Thursday night, you could also see it.

Oregon outrebounded the Sun Devils by eight, outscored them 36 to 14 in the paint and held the Arizona State to 29 percent shooting in the second half. Individually, Kenny Wooten provided a defense spark, wracking up four blocks, while Brown’s 12 second-half points paced a Duck offense that kept the always dangerous Sun Devils at bay.

It was another step in the right direction for the Ducks, who have played with an added fire and energy since getting a run out of the gym against Stanford almost three weeks ago. Head coach Dana Altman agrees.

“Since the Stanford game, which was a bomb, we’ve played hard,” Altman said. “Our energy level I think has been pretty good.”

Altman conceded the home environment probably helped on Thursday, but said he still liked the intensity and energy his team brought over the previous weekend in Southern California where the Ducks were swept by USC and UCLA.

“We played pretty hard in LA, I’m not going to fault our effort,” Altman said. “We weren’t sharp and we obviously didn’t finish, but I’m not going to fault our effort.”

That’s been the biggest difference for Oregon since Stanford. These Ducks are playing with a hint of desperation, knowing that it’s make it or break it time. While the Ducks still show some traces of the team that disappointed at the PK80 and were routed by Stanford — occasional stagnant offense, questionable shot selections and the lack of a true leader all still remain issues for this team — these last five games, show just how good these Ducks can be when they have something to play for.

At this point, they’re playing for their NCAA Tournament lives. With how wild the conference has been this season, mixed with the recent upheaval at Arizona and Oregon’s improved play of late, the Ducks suddenly look dangerous.

They seem to have learned from their early season mistakes and developed an edge along the way.

“We just have to do our job and prepare,” Brown said. “And if we do that, we don’t have to worry about who we’re playing against. I think we can beat anybody.”

The real litmus test will come on Saturday when Oregon welcomes No. 14 Arizona to Matt Knight. While the Wildcats narrowly beat the Ducks in Tucson in January, they’ll be without Allonzo Trier, their second-leading scorer (19.6 points per game). Hours before Oregon and Arizona State tipped off, the NCAA declared Trier ineligible to play after he tested positive for PEDs for the second time in two seasons.

It’s a heavy blow for Arizona, but the Ducks aren’t focused on it.

“We just gotta keep winning,” Pritchard said. “That’s our only focus.”

Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris

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Gus Morris

Gus Morris

Gus Morris covers Oregon football, basketball and women's golf for the Emerald. Caffeine addict. Bay Area sports. I know words, I have the best words.