Having lost its hold on first place in the Pac-12 with two straight losses, No. 17 Oregon hopes to right itself Thursday night at home against No. 16 Colorado in the spotlight matchup in the conference this week.
It’s a battle of the only two Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 25, and the Ducks’ chance to avenge a 74-65 loss in their conference opener to the Buffaloes on Jan. 2. Oregon can move into a tie for first place with Colorado with a win.
The Ducks must find a way to get over two lengthy shooting slumps in the second halves of their last two games that have cost them a chance to win. Oregon (18-6, 7-4 Pac-12) went almost 10 minutes without a made basket in the second half and lost an eight-point lead in a 70-60 loss at Stanford on Feb. 1.
Then on Feb. 8, in a rivalry game at Oregon State, Oregon lost a 10-point lead with an 8-minute, 44-second shooting slump and fell to the Beavers 63-53.
“We haven’t made the progress offensively or defensively we need to make and it’s February 8th. That’s on me,” coach Dana Altman told Duck Territory after the Oregon State game. “We’re not playing as well as we should. We’re not competing as we should. It’s our job as coaches, my job to get our guys to compete. I don’t like what we are doing.”
The Ducks haven’t had much in the way of post play. Big forward Francis Okoro was away from the team on a personal matter for the Oregon State game and hasn’t provided much offense of late. But the 6-foot-9 Okoro (3.5 points, 4.6 rebounds per game) is a physical force, and the Ducks should get him back against Colorado.
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Oregon is still hoping another big man, 6-11 N’Faly Dante (6.2 points, 2.7 rebounds), gets over what has become a long-term knee injury. But it may not be in time for the key matchup with Colorado.
The Buffaloes (19-5, 8-3) have won three straight and will be the seventh top 25 team Oregon faces this season. Colorado has lost five straight games to the Ducks in Eugene, Ore.
“We know that Oregon trip is tough,” coach Tad Boyle told the Boulder Daily Camera. “Oregon is one of the most talented teams in our league. It’s not easy to win there. We’re going to have to strap our boots up, lace them up, and go let it all hang out. Oregon State beat us here (in Colorado). One thing I know about Oregon, they’ll be ready. They’re well-coached. They’re a talented team.”
Colorado has gotten off to slow starts recently, struggling with shooting in the first halves of games against California, Stanford and UCLA. While second halves have gone much better, the Buffaloes know they have a challenge against the Ducks.
“On the defensive end, yes, we’ve got to be better,” point guard McKinley Wright IV (team-high 13.8 points per game) said. “Especially with a team like Oregon. They get out and run. They shoot a lot of deep 3s. They’ve got some bigs that can score down low. But as far as offensively, I think we’re doing the right thing.”