It is all coming together for Oregon men’s basketball.
The Ducks scored a come-from-behind win over rival Oregon State on Thursday night, 85-75, in an emotionally-charged atmosphere that served as the final home game of the season as well as a senior sendoff for four players. The win spelled sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 standings for No. 24 Oregon, and the team clinched a first-round bye in the conference tournament, which begins in less than two weeks.
Dominic Artis returned from an injury that had sidelined the freshman guard for nine games, and with no game on the weekend, Artis and his teammates have a rare week-long break before their next game.
His return could not have come on a better-scripted night, as over 10,000 fans were in attendance, including Nike creator and birthday boy Phil Knight, SportsCenter anchor and UO-alum Neil Everett and Portland Trail Blazers’ rookie sensation Damian Lillard. Artis was able to play 12 minutes for the Ducks, shooting 2-for-3 with his makes coming from beyond the arc for a total of six points.
“Man, what a difference he made,” head coach Dana Altman said. “If we can gradually bring him back … I think by the conference tournament, he is pretty much back.”
While one freshman guard returned, another exited when Damyean Dotson took a hard fall on his hip in the first half and was carried to the locker room. He jogged around at halftime on the court but did not return.
“We’re fortunate we got a week,” Altman said. “Because I don’t think he would play Saturday.”
The win over OSU was the second of the year for Oregon, spelling a season sweep of the Northwest schools (6-0), the first time that has happened since 1926.
The Ducks trailed by seven at the half on Thursday against the Beavers, much akin to the last time the teams played when Oregon was back by six at the break.
“I knew we were going to win,” senior E.J. Singler said. “I had full confidence in our guys.”
Oregon will travel to Colorado to face the Buffaloes on Thursday, and the team will close out the regular season in Utah on Saturday.
The Ducks’ conference record now stands at 12-4, the same amount of losses as UCLA (12-4), but Oregon holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Ducks now have a half-game advantage over Cal (12-5), but the Bears own that tiebreaker as they beat Oregon twice. Arizona’s loss to UCLA on Saturday took them out of contention for the No. 1 seed.
If Oregon can win both games on the schedule this week, they will finish as regular season Pac-12 champs for the first time since 2002.
The Ducks are guaranteed not to fall out of the top-three in the Pac-12 standings by season’s end, which means regardless of how Oregon fairs in the remaining contests, the Ducks will not have to play on day one of the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
The bracket begins on March 13, meaning UO will play its first game at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the second round on March 14. The Ducks have beaten all potential round-two opponents (except Colorado) at least once, and the team’s losses against Cal, Stanford and Colorado were all without Artis.