Oregon has a margins problem. No, it’s not money because thanks to Phil Knight their finances are—and will be—just fine. It’s not the outlines of trees on their hideous home court. No, this is about scoring points in basketball.
Before Oregon’s win against Oregon State in the Civil War and last night’s victory over Washington, the Ducks had lost three of their previous four games by two points each. Two points. One possession. One stop, one score. This ignominious streak included two losses away against the Arizona schools and a defeat to UCLA at home sandwiched around a convincing win over lifeless USC.
Earlier in the season, they were winning these games, against Ole Miss and BYU in overtime and another close game versus Illinois, they took the game to their opponents and won. However, now it seems conference familiarity is hurting the Ducks badly as they struggle to win close games.
But consecutive victories for the first time since beginning the season 13-0, against OSU and Washington, could to point to a turnaround. Yes, both were against mediocre at best teams, and yes both were hardly dominating victories, but Oregon may have found a win to finally win after harsh lessons in their losses. Their mental strength still appears to be intact, despite potentially demoralizing defeats since the New Year.
The Ducks are right there.
Their 8 losses have been by a combined 42 points—5.25 points or two possessions per contest. The only blowout loss was against Cal, a 13-point defeat where all of Oregon’s flaws were exposed on the glass and in the paint and just generally atrocious defense. Yet, against OSU and UW, Oregon played solid defense when it mattered, getting critical stops. That’s a sign of a mentally healthy team considering the anguish suffered after collapsing against then #2 Arizona and lapsing in concentration against ASU at the end of the game.
Taking care of business at home in their last two games is encouraging, but Oregon still hasn’t won a close game in the Pac-12. What’s it going to take for the Ducks to actually win a close game in-conference? Defense. Take a look at their recent losses, each coming down to the final few seconds before their opponent delivers a solid punch to the gut. Even in their last two victories, Oregon has appeared to zone out during parts of the game.
Oregon delivered an awesome three point shooting display in the opening minutes against OSU. But the Beavers kept fighting along, and the Ducks kept giving up easy buckets and then it was a two possession game. Oregon seemed to wake up and went into halftime with a solid lead. But the same issue repeated itself in the second half. This is a team dying or surviving—never thriving—on the thinnest of margins.
The Ducks lack focus. They lack defense. They lack late-game ability (or so it seems). Yet, they haven’t given up, and their fans should stick with them. This is a team that’s floating on the wrong side of the NCAAT bubble, but they’re only a few good games on back-to-back-to-back (to back) days in the Pac-12 Tournament from a berth and a second consecutive conference crown. Perhaps they learned from living on margins and are now poised to finally turn their season around.