It’s been nearly a decade since Oregon found itself in this position — under .500 in Pac-12 play with four games left in the regular season. It’s been a long fall from grace for a team that began the year as Pac-12 favorites and ranked in the top-15 of the country.
"We're all disappointed," Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “We came into the year with great expectations, we haven't met those expectations as a coaching staff, as a team.”
Bol Bol, Oregon’s five-star recruit suffered a foot injury early in the preseason and elected to have surgery, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. Louis King, the other five-star recruit, was coming off a serious knee injury in January of 2018 and although he’s playing now, never got the opportunity to suit up with Bol. Combine that with injuries to Kenny Wooten and Paul White and it’s no wonder the Ducks have become an afterthought in conference play.
“You have to fight adversity; you have to fight through the ups and downs when things don't go your way you have to battle back,” Altman said. "When things go against you, that's part of it. That's part of what our guys hope we learn about playing here.”
While many of Oregon’s struggles can be linked to injuries, that doesn’t tell the entire story.
With a roster comprised of freshmen and sophomores with only two true veterans in the program, the growing pains of playing together and in sync have been apparent. Three of the Ducks first four conference losses came when they were leading in the final minutes and combine that with blowing a 19-point second half lead against UCLA last week, their fortunes could easily be reversed.
But Oregon has yet to learn from those costly mistakes. The Ducks haven’t been mentally strong enough to overcome the adversity thrown their way, regardless of it being officials or opposing players, they’ve struggled.
"When things don't go your way, bad calls or whatever there may be in the game, you have to fight through it,” Altman said. “Hopefully, our guys have learned a little about that, but we've got to continue to practice hard, continue to work hard and find a way to scratch them out."
Now, the Ducks are no longer considered for an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament — thanks in large part to a recent three-game losing streak (and four of their last six). But with senior weekend approaching in Oregon’s final homestand, the Ducks are presented with an opportunity to right some of the wrongs and make White and Ehab Amin’s last stand at Matthew Knight Arena a memorable one.
"It’s been a roller coaster… it's good for us to leave with a couple wins," Amin said of his one season as a Duck. “There's been a lot of ups and downs. Just have the mentality of leaving it all out there and having no regrets."
Oregon begins its final homestand Arizona State on Thursday night (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network) before facing Arizona on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Ducks currently sit alone in 10th place in the Pac-12 at 6-8 while the Sun Devils are in second (10-5) and the Wildcats are tied for eighth (7-8).
The last time the Ducks met Arizona State, the Sun Devils went on a 19-0 second half run and cruised to a 78-64 victory — a massive momentum killer considering Oregon upset Arizona 59-54 two days prior.
They’re playing good, they’re playing inspired,” Altman said of the Sun Devils. “We’re going to have to play really well. They’re a very athletic, very talented team… so it’ll be a tough ball game.”
Oregon’s season isn’t all lost, knowing that four victories in four days at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas is realistically its only way to get an invite to the big dance. But that tournament is still two weeks ago, and for now the Arizona schools and some momentum are what’s needed most.
“We haven’t given up yet and we won’t until the last minute of the last game,” Amin said. “We are trying to get some momentum and get a couple wins under our belt and some confidence before the conference tournament… we are focused on the Arizona schools and want to take care of business and then the next trip before we start to get ready for Las Vegas.”