T-minus 24 hours until the tip of the 348th Civil War between No. 6 Oregon and Oregon State. The last time these two met on January 14, Oregon annihilated their in-state rival by 42 points at Matthew Knight Arena.
With a win, the Ducks would secure their sixth league title in program history. Not to mention, it would be the first back-to-back Pac-12 Championship’s in school history.
The team was in good spirits at Friday’s practice. Everyone seemed to be fully rested after a week off from their last game against Stanford.
If you think about it, Oregon has an opportunity to win three pieces of hardware in their next 10 games. Needless to say, one loss could end any thought of that in a heartbeat. Nevertheless, the Ducks continue to maintain their focus.
Overall, this current Duck team is not satisfied with what they have accomplished. Instead, they are focused on the next task. Right now, that is Oregon State at Gill Coliseum on Saturday.
“We have a big challenge over there. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to go,” said head coach Dana Altman.
Yet, the Oregon leader heaped on the praise for his coaching colleague.
“Wayne (Tinkle) has done a tremendous job at keeping them focused. They keep playing hard. Home efforts against Colorado and Utah were outstanding,” Altman reiterated.
Fresh off their first conference win of the season against Utah last week, the Beavers are feeling good about themselves. How good? We’ll know after the first five minutes of the second Civil War this season.
“They’ve continued to play hard. We caught them at the right time (in January),” stated Altman. “Things went our way. We played awfully well last time.”
One concern entering the contest is Oregon’s rebounding. Altman stressed it all year, especially in the final home stand against Utah and Colorado. He was let down by the rebounding intensity in their last two road contests.
“We have to rebound better. We didn't do a great job of that in the Bay Area,” said Altman.
Overall, the head coach is “excited” about his team this year. Yet, that is said very lightly. Dana Altman is a no non-sense coach. He doesn’t believe in talking, he ONLY believes in walking. He understands his current team is good, he just doesn’t know how good yet.
“I think it’s a good team,” Altman said without hesitation. “I think last years team was pretty solid. We miss Elgin (Cook) and Dwayne (Benjamin). They were two guys that gave us a lot. This team is solid. I like the progression.”
The senior Chris Boucher is ready and waiting for his final regular season college basketball game.
“Really excited, it’s a chance to win the Pac-12,” said Boucher. “It makes this game way bigger than what it is. I think we’re focused. I think we’re ready.”
He understands this Civil War is a bit more meaningful than past altercations. However, earning the Pac-12’s top spot would be more impressive to him.
“It definitely feels good. It shows that we’re a good team and play well together,” Boucher responded. “When you have teams like UCLA and Arizona, it makes it more difficult to win the league. We’ve earned it. We’ve worked hard all year. Feels good to be in position.”
Nevertheless, he knows there is still work to be done.
“Every game we try to get better,” said Boucher. “We try to work hard on defense. Take it one game at a time.”
Like every champion, they never settle with what has been accomplished. Champions are always striving to improve.
“Teams are out-rebounding us right now,” Boucher answered. “It has been an issue since before the Cal trip. We need to get better on it. We will get better before March.”
With success comes expectation. The Ducks are keenly aware of this fact.
“The Elite 8 (last year) gave me a lot of game experience. It’s more smooth. I’m more prepared,” said the former junior college transfer. “Last year, I didn't know what was going to happen.”
The week off has done the future graduate some good. In fact, he may be more rested now than he was at the start of the season.
“I definitely had a lot of homework, but I found some time to sleep,” Boucher stated. “Tomorrow we’ll be ready to play. A couple of days off and now the energy is back.”
The other senior leader of the squad, Dylan Ennis, was on the same page with his teammate and roommate, Chris Boucher.
“We were watching film yesterday and coach was showing us. It wasn’t our offense getting us going, it was our defense,” Ennis stated. “We had a good start defensively, which helped our offense. We want our defense to really spark the game.”
He knows the days of playing within the friendly confines of Matthew Knight Arena are over.
“We’re not playing at home anymore, so we have to do the little things to win on the road,” said Ennis. “We’re taking every game as it is. Playing hard, playing together, playing smart. We’re playing an OSU team that wants to win the last game of the year, like we do.”
With the recent downtime, Ennis had a moment to reflect on his injury-granted sixth season in college.
“It’s interesting. I thought my last was coming last year,” said the Canadian star. “I’m happy doing it. We’re in a good state as a team. I am in a good state as a senior. Hopefully, we have a lot more to go.”
Every time the Pac-12 is brought up, so too are UCLA and Arizona basketball, rightfully. Ennis knows the road ahead will be daunting.
“Everybody says, ‘well they were an Elite 8 team last year, they should be better this year.’ This is a whole different team,” Ennis responded. “A whole different season. A different tournament. Different players. We can't look at last year like we’re supposed to make it further because we have a better record now. There is still a lot of work to be done. People are going to gun for us now. We have to be ready for anybody.”
Overall, the senior wants to focus on the task at hand. Everything else will work itself out down the road. As cliche as it may sound, it is one game at a time for this team.
“The No. 1 seed doesnt mean too much to me,” Ennis retorted confidently. “But, to win the tournament does. Those games against top teams. People say the top three teams (in Pac-12 ) are one of the favorites, but it’s one game elimination now. We’re going to be prepared for everybody.”
Saturday afternoon in Corvallis will answer some questions. Yet, once this game ends, everybody is stuck with the same “neutral” floor dilemma. There is no more home court advantage. The Ducks seem ready to fly.
#MakeGillGreen on Saturday afternoon for the final Civil War of the year. Tip is set for 3:00 p.m. PCT from Gill Coliseum.
The Pac-12 Tournament begins on Wednesday in Las Vegas from the T-Mobile Center.