Clark: Oregon can prove it’s a Pac-12 contender this weekend

Posted by Lucas Clark on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 12:15 pm.

After Saturday’s nail-biting victory over Arizona, junior forward E.J. Singler acknowledged the Ducks must be more consistent as a basketball team.

Game-to-game this year, few things ring truer than Singler’s sentiment. This weekend — the fourth of eight Pac-12 doubleheaders — Oregon will need to be consistent in order to make a push into the top tier of the conference standings.

Heading into Thursday night’s home matchup with USC, Oregon sits 13-5 overall with a 4-2 record in Pac-12 play, trailing Stanford, California and Washington for the league lead. Considering the conference schedule this week, Oregon will have a legitimate shot at climbing into the top two with a pair of wins.

The two teams to beat the Ducks in conference play this year — Cal and Washington — will face each other for the first time this season in Seattle. The Huskies have won seven of their last nine games, with six of those victories coming inside Alaska Airlines Arena at their own at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

Added to Washington’s recent success is the increased level of play from sophomore guard Terrence Ross, who was tabbed the Pac-12 Player of the Week on Monday after posting 30 points and 14 rebounds, both career highs, in a win over Washington State.

Assuming the Huskies continue playing well at home, Cal and Washington will essentially switch places in the standings, leaving Stanford to move past Washington State with relative ease and sit comfortably in first at 6-1 heading into Saturday.

Meanwhile, Oregon ought to handle a struggling USC team that hasn’t won a Pac-12 game this season and currently sits eight games under .500. With a little extra fan support, this game could be key heading into Saturday’s contest with UCLA.

Things will get a little more interesting on Saturday. Cal will be in Pullman, Wash., trying to avoid being swept in the state of Washington, while Stanford will try to hold on to its top spot against the Huskies in Seattle. That figures to be one of the best games of the year in the Pac-12, which is, well, not saying much.

Regardless, if Oregon is able to maintain the consistency that has eluded them for the last several years, let alone several months, it could be in a favorable position at weekend’s end.

Given the way the Cardinal struggled during their last road trip, losing to the Ducks and needing four overtimes to top the Beavers, the favorite has to be Washington this weekend. The Huskies defend their home court as well as anybody in the league, which could propel them to the top of the conference standings on Sunday with a 6-1 record.

If Stanford and Cal both split, they’ll be in a three-way tie with Oregon for second place at 6-2 heading into rivalry weekend.

All of this probably meaningless analysis bodes well for the Ducks, who have lost only two games at home this season — to No. 15 Virginia on Dec. 18 and Cal on Jan. 8. With Oregon State to follow next week, Oregon could take a potential five-game winning streak into the crucial month of February. Needless to say, that would be a huge momentum builder for this team.

Second-year head coach Dana Altman is a tough man to please for a full 40 minutes each night, but the improvements he’s been talking about since early November are showing through in recent outings. See Garrett Sim’s g0-ahead three-pointer near the end of Saturday’s win over Arizona for validation.

To say it’s a big weekend in Oregon basketball would only undermine the next month of big weekends for the Ducks. The momentum is building after the sweep in Arizona, and now is the time to prove to the rest of the conference that Oregon is a legitimate contender in 2012.

They’re on the way, to be sure, but they must capture that consistency.