Suddenly, the Oregon Ducks basketball team has a chance to make some noise.
Oregon went into Arizona and won two crucial road contests to put themselves back in the race at 4-2 in the Pac-12, with their only losses in Washington and home to Cal. Beating Arizona on Saturday on national TV was a huge win for the program.
Beating Arizona State was a bit of a tricky proposition, as ASU shot about the same from the free throw line and won the offensive rebounding battle against a weak Oregon frontline. However, ASU had just dismissed Keala King, and the Sun Devils didn't really have any dedicated point guard to run the offense. That meant Trent Lockett had to run the offense, and while he shot well (8 of 11 from the field), he hemorrhaged the ball seven times while dishing out five dimes. ASU had 16 turnovers to Oregon's eight, leading to several more possessions for the Ducks and thus several more made shots, making the difference in a 67-58 win.
Shooting became even more critical against Arizona, since the Ducks couldn't stop the Wildcats from getting to the foul line (10 more free throw attempts). But Arizona missed so many buckets (41% from the field and nearly the same percentage on two point buckets, and only 60% from the line to negate that huge FT rate), and the Ducks managed to hit just a couple more. Tough cooking for the Wildcats, and a big win for Oregon as they come home for a critical three game homestand with UCLA and Oregon State looming.
Oregon relies mainly on the production of Devoe Joseph, E.J. Singler and Garrett Sim on offense, who all hit double digits in these two victories. But it was defense that was key for Oregon, as the Ducks didn't do anything outstanding but managed to hold their opponents to under 60 points in both contests. Considering they've been giving up over 70 on average in-conference before this trip, that has to constitute a sizable improvement.
Oregon probably isn't consistent enough to win the Pac-12. They rely too much on shooting, are an average to mediocre rebounding team, and just struggle with hitting free throws. However, it's not like anyone is distancing themselves from the pack yet. They're very much in the mix, especially if they can keep on playing defense the way they did it in the Desert.