Oregon and UCLA men’s basketball to finally take first place in Pac-12 on the line
EUGENE – Finally, Oregon will finally host UCLA.
The twice rescheduled match comes with the first place on the line.
The Bruins (17-6, 13-4 Pac-12) lead UO and USC by half a game in Wednesday night’s showdown at Matthew Knight Arena (6 p.m., ESPN2). Later this week, UCLA takes on the Trojans, who play at Stanford on Wednesday.
“I don’t like the fact that we have to go to Eugene twice,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said, referring to the postponed December 23 game when an official tested positive for COVID-19 . “I’m hoping that at some point Oregon will play at UCLA in my career at UCLA. It would be good. As far as I know Oregon has a lot of nice pinots up there, I don’t have time to go looking for anything.
The Ducks (17-5, 12-4) have won eight of nine and will play their seventh game in 14 days. So don’t expect Dana Altman to sympathize with Cronin’s rebuke.
“Hey, nobody felt sorry for us earlier in the year,” Altman said. “We had an advantage, we had a big advantage when Oscar (da Silva) didn’t play against Stanford. But we’ve had games where we haven’t had our guys. So that’s what it is.
Altman has reached out to NBA coaches to ask how to keep players cool during Oregon’s home stretch. As much the veteran coach would love his team to practice, but the Ducks have been unable to do so due to the regularity of games the past two weeks.
“They just said release the guys and get them out of there,” Altman said. “They must have energy at the time of the game.”
A movie review and tour on Tuesday and a brief shoot Wednesday afternoon will again be enough for the Ducks, who just wrapped up their most energetic performance of the season in Monday’s win over Arizona.
UO players take on the challenge of the professional-style ad hoc calendar.
“It sets us up for the next level, the next steps,” said guard Chris Duarte. “Wherever we go, it’s going to be like that, it’s going to be game after game. We are taking advantage of that right now.
Cronin didn’t think fatigue would be a factor for Oregon when the regular-season Pac-12 title and No.1 seed in next week’s conference tournament are on the line.
One thing that plays to Oregon’s advantage despite the difficult schedule is UCLA’s extremely slow pace of play, the slowest in the Pac-12.
The Bruins have nine players who average more than 10 minutes per game, compared to a rotation for UO that has been reduced to eight overall and six mostly.
“This is just one of those games where it’s going to be a knock-out and drag-out fight,” said Altman. “That’s how they play and we’ve got a little more physics here so I think we’re ready to match that. Hope the guys are pretty excited. I wish I had more time to prepare, but that’s what it is. “
One-on-one clashes across the board are perhaps the best the Pac-12 has to offer this season.
Both teams have five healthy players averaging over nine points per game, with Duarte, Will Richardson, LJ Figueroa, Eugene Omoruyi and Eric Williams Jr. for UO, and Tyger Campbell, Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Jules Bernard and Cody Riley for UCLA.
Cronin called Duarte (17.4 points, 4.9 rebounds) “America’s best defensive guard, period.
“It is a problem. It’s a big deal and it’s a problem on both sides of the floor. He’s a great player.
Oregon are able to fight for back-to-back regular season titles thanks in large part to Duarte averaging 21 points and Omoruyi averaging 18 points and six rebounds in the last three games.
Altman wants the Ducks to enjoy this week’s process and where they got into.
“I want them to have fun, hug them, play as hard as they can, everyone to stay ready, see what happens,” he said. “It’s great to be in this position during the two breaks and a few bad losses at home. So that they are resilient and fight like they did; a poor performance at USC, they didn’t come down, they came back and did a great job.