With nine teams rated inside ESPN’s RPI top 50 – Oregon (11), USC (19), Utah (22), Oregon State (30), Colorado (33), Arizona (34), Arizona State (39), California (42), UCLA (44) – the Pac-12 boasts one of the best top-to-bottom conferences in college basketball. No wins come easy in the Pac-12 and it’s already been proven with a handful of interconference upsets.
Under these circumstances, road games have become that much more difficult and important for postseason hopefuls like Oregon. All three of Oregon’s losses this season have been suffered on the road.
“They’re all tough this year,” said head coach Dana Altman. “All the teams are playing well at home. Kind of speaks to the history of college basketball. It’s always been a home court sport.”
Oregon will start a two-game road trip at Utah and Colorado Thursday. This back-to-back in the mountains is notoriously considered to be one of the hardest road tests of the year for any Pac-12 school. The higher elevation and rowdy environments have established a reputation among league teams.
“These two (environments) will be really good, you got to protect home court,” Altman said. “I’m sure it will be pretty lively at both spots.”
“It’s going to be a real hostile atmosphere,” Elgin Cook said. “Obviously, we haven’t been doing a good job getting ourselves prepared for road games, so we just want to focus on the game.”
Both teams feature highly touted, veteran big men. Jakob Poeltl (17.0 points, 9.4 rebounds) and Josh Scott (17.4 points, 9.6 rebounds) anchor an already stout, depth-heavy frontcourt that have a reputation for being unforgiving on the glass.
No different from recent games against California and Stanford, rebounding will once again be a key factor in Altman’s game plan. Oregon currently ranks ninth in the Pac-12 in rebounding per game (37.3).
“That’s really going to be important on this road swing,” Altman said. “Both Utah and Colorado, just like Cal are three of the better rebounding teams in the league.”
Drawing from Oregon’s mid-season sample size, sustaining effort and energy for all 40 minutes will be the bottom line for this weekend. While this team has recently strung together two quality wins against the Northern California schools the players and coaches continue to preach better consistency in these areas.
“We look at the film on the losses on the road: we didn’t bring the effort,” Tyler Dorsey said. “We can’t start out slow. Because we’re on the road, we can’t dig ourselves in a hole and that’s going to be emphasize heading into Utah and Colorado.”
With Pac-12 play now in full swing, the intensity and pressure for every game will only continue to intensify, especially for the road team.
Said Altman: “The history right now – the two, three years we’ve been in the league – the road teams have really struggled, so anybody that gets a road win, it’s a big deal.”
Oregon opened the conference schedule with a loss on the road at Oregon State. Now, they’ll have another opportunity to prove they can indeed get wins away from home.
“We need to win on the road,” Dorsey said. “Every road game is going to be tough. If we can win on the road, we’ll be successful.”
Against Utah, tipoff is scheduled for a 7 p.m. (PST) start, while Colorado will start at 4 p.m. (PST). Both will be aired on the Pac-12 Networks.
Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim