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Eggers: Ducks shoot to rivalry win, but is either team relevant?

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon's Damyean Dotson goes in for a dunk during Sunday's Civil War game at Matthew Knight Arena.EUGENE — The moment of truth came late for Oregon, as usual.

Oregon State had trimmed an early 19-point deficit to 72-70 on a pair of Hallice Cooke free throws with 5:11 remaining Sunday, and the partisans among the Matthew Knight Arena throng of 10,013 were duneasy as a windsock in a tornado.

The Ducks (16-8 overall, 4-8 in Pac-12 action) had been there before. Too many times over the past month, they had taken opponents to the wire before falling, losing five games by four points or fewer.

This time they were up for the challenge, outscoring the Beavers 15-4 over the next four minutes to salt away a 93-83 victory.

"We got in the huddle and said, 'Fellas, take a deep breath. It still comes down to execution and finishing some plays,' " Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "For the most part, they did a good job of that."

Over the decisive four-minute period, the Ducks got points from all five players on the court, including junior guard Joseph Young, whose game-high 25 points spelled doom for the Beavers (13-11, 5-7) as much as anything.

That and what happened at the 3-point line almost before the fans had settled into their seats.

The Ducks sank their first seven attempts from beyond the arc. By the time they finally missed one, they led 31-12 and there was still half of the first half to play.

"They live on 3's," Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said. "Our whole game plan was to stop them shooting 3's. They shot about 30 of them in the beginning of the game."

Oregon entered the game having attempted the most 3-point shots of any Pac-12 team in conference games (228 in 11, nearly 21 a game) but ranked only eighth in percentage of makes (.325).

The Ducks cooled off after the torrid start, making only 2 of 7 3-point attempts after finishing 9 for 14 in the first half. By that time, though, too much damage had been done.

"You can't play any game -- let alone a Civil War -- where you give them a 19-point lead head start," Robinson said.

The Beavers -- who entered the game leading the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage in conference games (.476) by a wide margin -- were only 5 for 16 on treys. Oregon's 18-point edge from the stripe was simply too much for the visitors overcome, even while scoring 48 points in the second half, since the Ducks tallied 48, too.

"It was more of an offensive game than anything," Altman said.

Oregon, which came in ranked 11th in conference games in field-goal percentage (.414), shot .534 from the field -- .586 in the first half. The Beavers didn't get out on the Ducks' shooters off of high pick-and-rolls on the perimeter until it was too late.

"We went under on guys we should have gone over, and went over on guys we should have gone under," Robinson said. "A little bit of missed execution there."

Even with the lack of punch from 3-point range, offense wasn't a problem for Oregon State. The Beavers shot .517 from the field and used their size advantage to rule the points-in-the-paint battle 34-22. They could never get over the hump, though, and were at their worst -- 1 for 8 shooting with two turnovers -- during the late four-minute span that spelled their doom.

Altman shook his head when asked what made the difference in the way Oregon closed a game after having had so much trouble doing so in recent weeks.

"I don't know if there's any big difference," the fourth-year Oregon coach said. "You make plays. We made some fundamentally unsound/bad plays that allowed (the Beavers) to get back. When they got it to a two-point game, our guys struggled a little with that. But we had some guys make some plays we needed down the stretch."

The oddsmakers knew exactly what they were doing, establishing Oregon as a 9 1/2-point favorite despite a 3-8 Pac-12 record and an 80-72 loss to OSU in Corvallis on Jan. 19.

Both teams wanted to win, but the Ducks needed it more.

"We've been in a little drought," understated Oregon point guard Johnathan Loyd, who had 11 points and five assists.

After their 13-0 start and a top-10 ranking, the Ducks fell off so dramatically that their NCAA Tournament went from assured to remote. Now, maybe, they can begin a resuscitation process.

"We've been talking about it -- how much we're playing for, what this means to all of us," said Loyd, one of four Oregon seniors. "I have confidence in my guys. This is the time."

Altman was asked if he has the same feeling about the Ducks making a run as they eye their final six regular-season games.

"The seniors have to have a sense of urgency," he said. "I'm sure Oregon State is the same way. We have seniors who this is their last month (of college basketball). We have a lot of work to do here in six ballgames.

"We have four of our last six at home. We have to take advantage of that. But the only run you should be worried about is Wednesday night against Washington. Runs don't happen if you don't take care of the next game."

Two weeks ago, with Oregon State sitting at 5-4 at the midway point of conference play, Robinson noted the Beavers had never been "relevant" so late in the season during his six years at the school. Now, with the same six opponents left as the Ducks before the Pac-12 tournament, the Beavers seem to be sinking back toward irrelevancy.

I asked the coach if there is a great sense of urgency now for his quintet with Washington and Washington State coming into Gill Coliseum next weekend.

"There was a sense of urgency, anyway," he insisted. "You can't mess around with any of these games. All of the teams in our league are capable of beating anyone else.

"Now it puts the pressure on us to take care of our homecourt, which we've done a pretty good job of (10-2). We have to (beat Washington and Washington State), for sure. It's going to be tough, but we knew that part of it. It would have been tough even if we'd won this game."

Robinson is now 5-7 in Civil War games. Altman is 6-2. The Oregon coach responded with honesty when asked if the in-state rivalry means more to him than others.

"It does, because I know how much it means to some of our people," he said. "As a coach, they're all ballgames. It doesn't matter who you're playing. But knowing it means a little more to some of our people, it adds a little more significance.

"The bottom line: This is a university for our students and alumni. If it means more to them, it's gotta mean more to us. It's their team. I'm just here for a few years to take care of their team."

The Beavers are playing for a National Invitation Tournament berth now. That would be a step up from the pay-for-play postseason experience they've had during Robinson's previous five seasons at the helm.

The Ducks, with a No. 43 RPI rating, might be headed for the NIT. To get back to the NCAA Tournament, they'll probably need to get to 22 or 23 wins, including a couple in the Pac-12 tourney. Or, of course, get the automatic bid by winning the Pac-12 tournament.

Altman didn't flinch when I asked if the Ducks are an NCAA Tournament team.

"Right now, we're not," he said. "But we can change that. We're going to have plenty of opportunities against people they say are."

Altman is referring to Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State, all among the nation's top 30 in the latest RPI rankings. I agree with Robinson that any Pac-12 team can beat any other this season.

I just don't know if it's going to happen enough the rest of the way to make either the Ducks or Beavers relevant in the postseason.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers