While one championship was lost last weekend, at least there is another for Oregon to go after this week at the Pac-12 Conference tournament.
The Ducks, having fallen short of sharing the regular-season title by dropping their final two games, open play at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas tonight against Washington, which beat Washington State 64-62 in a first round game on Wednesday night.
“We know that we messed up (in the regular season), and I think our focus is really high right now, wanting this conference championship," Oregon senior E.J. Singler said of the tournament, which will determine the Pac-12’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
“Everybody starts anew now. It’ll be really exciting," UO coach Dana Altman said.
If ever a team was wanting a “new season," it would seem to be the Ducks, despite their 23-8 record, including 12-6 in the Pac-12. They started the final weekend of the regular season tied for first place, then lost by 23 points at Colorado and by 10 at Utah, when a victory in either game would have been worth a share of the title with UCLA.
“You’ve just got to keep moving forward," Altman said. “If you’re playing a game, it’s about the next possession. If you’re playing a season, it’s always about the next game.
“There’s nothing you can do about the previous one, so we’ll move on and be ready to go (tonight)."
The Ducks practiced at Matthew Knight Arena on Monday and Tuesday, departing Tuesday evening for Las Vegas and a 48-hour wait for their game.
“We’ll get down there plenty early," Altman acknowledged. “It’s going to be a long wait."
There are only so many options to fly from Eugene to Las Vegas, especially when the traveling party numbers more than 20, and the Ducks made their reservations long before they knew they would not play on Wednesday. Altman said there was “not any way to change" the travel plan when the Ducks clinched a top-four finish to earn a first-round bye.
Altman said the Ducks would fill the time before their first game with practice, watching games and study hall, the latter an emphasis with winter term ending next week.
The major quest for Oregon might be simply finding itself after last weekend’s pair of double-digit losses.
“We’ve had our time to dwell on it, but we can’t anymore," Singler said. “We’ve put it behind us and we’re moving forward.
“We’re looking at (the conference tournament) as a new season. We feel like we have a good chance to go in there and win it. That’s our mindset right now."
Singler said there was a great deal of disappointment for the Ducks, particularly in finishing tied for second, and a game out of first, for the second consecutive season.
“Our team wanted to win the Pac-12 championship or at least get a share of it," Singler said, adding that failing to reach that goal “hurt, it did, but we can’t dwell on it. We still have a lot of things to accomplish."
Singler said the lesson learned from the two losses was “just knowing that you’ve got to bring it each and every game and play with passion and energy. That’s what wins games, and that’s what won games for us early in the season."
While the ultimate goal this week is winning the Pac-12 tournament, and with it an automatic berth in the NCAA field of 68 teams that will be announced Sunday, Singler said he thinks the Ducks need at least one win to assure themselves of an at-large bid.
“E.J. is thinking too much. There we go again," Altman said with a sigh. “You don’t worry about those things. You control what you can control.
“You just go out and play. Where we’re at, we just need to go play well."
That, Altman added, was his primary concern coming out of the past weekend.
“We didn’t shoot free throws well, we didn’t rebound well ... the fundamentals of the game we didn’t take care of," Altman said.
And the result was a great deal of soul-searching as the regular season ended.
“We’re all disappointed, but they’ll respond," Altman said. “We’ve won 23 games. ... We’ve had down performances before, we’ve bounced back, and I have every reason to believe we will."