Ducks shift into high gear in stretch run

By Steve Mims / The (Eugene) Register-Guard

Published Mar 7, 2014 at 12:01AM

EUGENE — Mike Moser had a reminder for those surprised by the late-season success of the University of Oregon men’s basketball team.

“I don’t even know if people remember, but we started the season off 13-0,” the senior forward said Tuesday night after the Ducks’ 85-78 victory over Arizona State at Matthew Knight Arena.

“We’re a team that’s capable of this,” Moser continued. “It’s not really a surprise to us. We were just wondering when it was going to happen. We got in a drought, kind of got stuck there and kept chipping away. … Finally, we kind of turned it around, and it’s funny people are still surprised.”

Oregon’s regular season has been defined by three separate stages: the fast start, followed by eight losses in 10 games, and now six straight victories heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. regular-season finale against third-ranked Arizona.

“I knew we were capable of it,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “During the losing streak, we were on the road a lot, so I knew the schedule was going to flip in our favor. We had to take care of business and play better, but I knew we had the talent. I knew the guys were staying together; there wasn’t any panic.”

Though he says he was not surprised, Altman said bouncing back from a midseason slump is a tough task.

“A lot of teams would have folded at 3-8,” he said. “We had just lost three games by two points, but we had great leadership and the guys in the locker room did a great job staying together.”

Junior guard Joseph Young gave Altman much of the credit for keeping the team together.

“We are overcoming adversity,” Young said. “It all started when we lost the first couple games and we never gave up.”

Sophomore guard Damyean Dotson said the Ducks never changed their demeanor as their season took various turns.

“When we were losing, people were kind of down, but it was the same energy and everything,” Dotson said. “We picked it up in practice, but the locker room was the same.”

Moser said the Ducks are better now than they were when they rose as high as No. 10 in the Associated Press poll in early January.

“Our chemistry is better,” he said. “Obviously, we have been playing together for almost a year now. Our defensive chemistry is getting better, so I’d say we’re a better team than we were in November.”

That was the goal that Altman talked about from the beginning of the season.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s March, and you have to play your best in March,” Dotson said. “We have to keep working in practice and do what we have to do to focus in on teams that we have to play and we’ll be fine.”

Oregon lost to Washington, Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State during the first half of conference play but won rematches against each of those teams during their current winning streak.

“We’re getting better,” Altman said. “I still don’t think we’re hitting on all cylinders. There is a lot more we can grow into, but we don’t have a lot of time to do it.”

The Ducks have improved to 9-8 in the Pac-12 Conference and moved into a tie for fifth place. At 21-8 overall, they are in most NCAA tournament projections and can move a long way toward locking up a berth with a victory over Arizona on Saturday.

“We’re trying to play like every game is an NCAA game right now,” Moser said. “That heightens the value to it. Saturday will be the same and next week will be the same.”

Oregon had its first day off in more than a week Wednesday following a stretch of three games in six days, including a double-overtime victory over UCLA last Thursday night in Los Angeles. The Ducks will have three days without a game before facing Arizona (28-2, 15-2), which won 74-69 at Oregon State on Wednesday night.

“This time of year, you forget about this one and move on to the next one and try to get as focused as you can,” Altman said. “We don’t want to overwork them. We won’t be in the gym a long time Thursday or Friday.”

But Moser said it is not the physical pounding that wears on teams at the end of the regular season.

“We need to get rest,” he said. “But right now at this point of the season, it’s all mental.”