With Wednesday's impressive 65-52 win over the Washington Huskies the Oregon Ducks appear to have broken out of their slump.
Since Oregon's freshman point guard, Dominic Artis, went down with a foot injury on January 26th, the Ducks had been struggling mightily. Prior to Wednesday, Oregon was just 2-3 without Artis and looked far from a top-25 team in his absence.
During the stretch the Ducks averaged 18 turnovers per game and shot 42 percent. Their confidence appeared non-existent, their offense was stagnant and the momentum of their 17-2 start was fading rapidly.
However, that all changed when Oregon took the floor in Seattle on Wednesday. Instead Oregon committed just nine turnovers and shot 49 percent on the night. They played with a confidence they hadn't had in over two weeks, and it showed. The Huskies never led the game and every time they looked to be getting close, the Ducks took over. It was an impressive win from start to finish.
The Ducks came into Wednesday with their born-again confidence due to the impressive second half against Utah four days earlier. It was then that Oregon was down eight points to the worst team in the conference at halftime. They were about to lose their fourth-straight game and complete their free-fall out of the top-25.
Then, sparked by an apparently rousing locker room speech from center Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon exploded for 51-points in the second half which was enough for a comeback win over the Utes. Kazemi’s speech, and the win, gave the Ducks their confidence back and just may be the turning point in what could be a special season.
As the Pac-12 conference standings get more and more convoluted, Oregon controls their own destiny. They sit a game and a half in front of UCLA and Arizona atop the conference, with just six games remaining (three at home, three away).
Three of the Ducks' remaining games are against the bottom-three teams in the Pac-12. Washington State, Oregon State and Utah have a total of eight combined conference wins this season; that is one less than the Ducks. All three are games that Oregon should win even without Artis, especially if they are serious about dancing in March's big-dance.
Their other three games come against the same teams that have handed them their three conference losses this season. The Ducks will host Cal and Stanford next week with revenge on the mind and hopefully with Artis at point guard. They then travel to Colorado during the final weekend of the regular season, looking to avenge a home loss to the Buffaloes that snapped a 20-game winning streak at Matthew Knight Arena.
If the Ducks can manage to win five of their final six games they will clinch their first Pac-12 regular season championship in eleven years. However, with the way this conference season is playing out, it may not even take five wins. The Ducks have likely wrapped up their first NCAA tournament bid since 2008 already, but a conference championship would cement that bid. Considering what this team looked like just two weeks ago, that would be quite the turnaround.
Vince Tushner is on Twitter. Follow him at @SportsVince21