Dana Altman’s efforts to cap 10,000 fans at Matthew Knight Arena Tuesday night may not have come into fruition, but it did attract an emotional crowd. With just one game remaining against No. 3 ranked Arizona, the Oregon men’s basketball team (21-8, 9-8 Pac-12) picked up its sixth straight conference win against Arizona State (21-8, 10-6) 85-78 and continued its hunt for an NCAA tournament bid. The Ducks are now one game behind California, Colorado and Stanford for the fourth spot in the Pac-12 and have secured a .500 record in conference play.
“We’re just playing with a sense of urgency,” Mike Moser said. “We dived on the floor for loose balls, we kind of picked up our defense, everything is just a lot more intense than it was in January and February.”
From beginning to end, the Ducks were in control. They began the game with a Joseph Young steal that led to a left-handed slam and ignited a 15-0 run. Though the Sun Devils fought back to end the half trailing 33-25, the Ducks held the advantage on both sides of the ball.
“When they came here, we (knew) we had to pick it up,” Damyean Dotson said. “Just play aggressive, cut off their go-to guys and just guard and rebound and that’s what we did and we started off hot.”
In the second half, both teams started out flat. Oregon did manage to keep their lead for the remainder of the game, but it wasn’t without a fight. With 10:52 to play, Arizona State cut the lead to 55-52 and would continue to trade baskets with the Ducks throughout the half. It wasn’t until the 5:12 mark — when Young recorded his second left-handed slam — that the Ducks pulled away for good.
“This is our most complete game, (but) I wouldn’t call it a complete game,” Moser said. “We definitely played good defense in the first half, but they’re are still some mental lapses on shooters and ball screens that we can do a little better on.”
Arguably the biggest addition for Oregon came from senior center Waverly Austin. After struggling to log consistent minutes this season, Austin finished with a season-high 10 rebounds, five points and five blocks in his best game of the season. During his 28 minutes (a season-high), Austin protected the rim well and limited Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski. Oregon was pleasantly surprised.
“A great performance,” Altman said about Austin. “Again, as well as Mike (Moser) played, I thought Waverly was the difference in the game. He just kept going, stuck with us, the coaching staff and when he got his second chance, he came back and has given us a lot, so I feel good for him.”
In a game where four Ducks scored in double-figures, there were a lot of positives on the offensive end. Similar to their last five games, the Ducks have hit their stride in regards to playing at their pace, and it has resulted in some of their better games this season. The Ducks finished the game shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from beyond the arc. Free throw shooting, where the Ducks shot 20-of-26, was, however, one area where the Ducks struggled tonight.
“The thing that allowed them to come back in the second half was that we missed free throws,” Altman said.
In regards to areas for improvement, the Ducks haven’t changed their stance. They still view defensive rebounding and defense as their two main areas of concern — despite their recent play — and they will have to figure it out before facing the best team in the conference, Arizona.
“We still, as a team, make some mistakes that we shouldn’t make at this juncture of the season,” Altman said. “This point in the season, we still do some things and I haven’t done a good job of getting them to where they need to be. But we’ve made improvement.”
Leading the way for the Ducks were Calliste, Damyean Dotson, Moser and Young. Moser recorded his third double-double (first time in a season since Joevan Catron in 2010-2011) with a team-high 22 points and 17 rebounds, while Calliste (16), Dotson (15) and Young (13) also scored well.
For Arizona State, Carson, Jermaine Marshall and Bachynski led the way. Carson finished with a game-high 28 points, Marshall recorded 16 points and Bachynski added a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“We’re going to have to bring our A game,” Altman said about their season-closer against Arizona. “I think they’re the best team in the country and you talk about players that are going to be playing for a long time, they’ve got a bunch of them sitting on their bench. So we’re going to have to play really well.”
Oregon’s final regular season game will be this Saturday at home against Arizona. Tipoff is set for a 1 p.m. start.
Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim