Paul Danzer On College Hoops: Can Oregon men win on road, stay atop Pac-12 standings?

The state of Oregon was the focal point of women's college basketball during the Civil War games Friday in Eugene and Sunday in Corvallis.

Then, on Monday, came more exciting news.

Portland made the final four to play host to a Final Four.

Moda Center is one of four venues in the running to host the NCAA Division I Women's Final Four in 2025 or 2026, thanks to a bid put forward by Oregon State, the Trail Blazers, Sport Oregon and Travel Portland.

The other cities are Tampa, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; and Columbus, Ohio.

Obviously, Portland should be the top seed to win this "final four."

Cleveland is the 2024 host city, which makes Columbus a strange candidate.

Attendance was strong in Tampa last spring. But, anecdotally, the tournament wasn't on the radar of the cab/Uber drivers I met, and the local media were focused on the NHL's Lightning. Tampa reported back-to-back sellouts of more than 20,000 for the 2019 semifinals and finals. Tampa also hosted in 2015, so maybe experience is a factor. But for building the audience, moving the sport's premier event around the country makes more sense.

Then again, the NCAA has seldom been accused of common sense.

A women's Final Four in Portland would be the first in the Pacific time zone since San Jose hosted in 1999. Since 1993, the only other Women's Final Four in the "West" was in Denver in 2012.

That needs to change, especially with four Pac-12 teams in the top-10, six in the top 20 and Gonzaga at No. 12. The West deserves Portland AND Phoenix to be the locations in 2025 and 2026.

Driven by Oregon's presence, the Portland Regional attracted more than 11,000 fans to each session last season. Moda Center is a regional site again this spring (March 28 and 30). If Oregon, Oregon State or even Gonzaga makes this regional, it figures to give Portland a boost in this bid.

• Just like that, the Oregon men lead the Pac-12.

After sweeping the L.A. schools, the Ducks are 6-2 in conference play, 17-4 overall. It's by no means a given that Oregon will stay there. The Ducks are one of four teams with two conference losses, and three others have three, so the margin of error is a thin one.

Then again, the Ducks toy with thin margins.

Oregon is 4-1 in overtime games this season, including in three of its six conference wins.

This week, it's a visit to the Bay Area for the Oregon teams. And it figures to be another white-knuckle experience for Ducks fans (and a chance, perhaps, for the desperate Beavers to rediscover their mojo).

Combined, the Bears and Cardinal are 20-3 at home. Cal is 3-0 at home in conference play after rallying to beat Stanford 52-50 on Sunday.

Figure Oregon, which visits Cal at 6 p.m. Thursday and Stanford at 3 p.m. Saturday, will continue to try to speed up and wear down opponents with defensive pressure. Oregon's ability to create havoc with full-court pressure was key to come-from-behind wins over Washington and USC and fueled the 30-5 run that put away UCLA early on Sunday.

Chris Duarte, a 6-6 guard, earned Pac-12 player of the week honors by averaging 27 points and making 15 steals in the wins over USC and UCLA. The 2019 national junior college player of the year seems to be gaining confidence, a positive sign for the Ducks' stretch run.

Cal averages less than 56 points per game in conference play, so surely the Ducks, who are scoring almost 70 points per 40 minutes in conference play, will take care of business, right?

Except that we thought that would happen when they took a three-game win streak to Washington State. This is a similar situation, in that the perceived bigger game at Stanford is the second of the week, which sets up Cal as a "trap" game for Oregon.

We'll see if the Ducks learned from the Pullman loss.

• While Oregon tries to improve its chances for a strong seed in the NCAA Tournament, Oregon State must find some answers if it is going to qualify.

Entering conference play, the Beavers were 10-2 — though their schedule left questions about how good they were. Since an impressive 17-point win over Arizona on Jan. 12, Oregon State has lost four in a row and been outscored 290-245, with opponents shooting 51.5% while the Beavers struggle at 41.3%.

At 12-8 two-thirds of the way through the regular season, OSU needs answers soon or it will require winning four times in four days at the Pac-12 tourney for the Beavers to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. 

• The Beavers' plight mirrors that of their conference. After an encouraging nonconference season, the Pac-12 has fallen from the national discussion. Oregon (No. 11/12) and Colorado (No. 20/21) are the only Pac-12 teams ranked this week by AP or the coaches.

In ESPN's latest projections, five Pac-12 teams will make the NCAA Tournament: Oregon, Colorado, Stanford, Arizona and USC.

• It's a rare week when the Oregon and Oregon State men and women both are on the road. Which means it's a chance to catch a program on the rise.

That would be Michael Meek's University of Portland women's team. The Pilots have won five in a row and at 6-3 are tied for third in the West Coast Conference, a game behind BYU, which visits at 7 p.m. Thursday, and tied with 2 p.m. Saturday guest San Diego — a game that will be followed by the UP men playing host to Santa Clara at 5 p.m..

Two of the recent wins for the UP women have come via dramatic finishes, including Lauren Walker's go-ahead put-back basket in Saturday's two-point win over Pepperdine.

BYU will be looking to avenge a loss to the Pilots in Provo.

The five-game win streak is Portland's longest since 2009-10.

• The schedule is about to flip in favor of the Portland State men, who play host to Big Sky leader Montana at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Vikings (10-12) went 4-6 in the first half of their conference schedule, played over 29 days. PSU gets eight days off after the Montana game and will play the second half of the conference slate over 42 days. And the Viks will play five of their final seven games at home beginning in mid-February.

• Warner Pacific is fourth in the Cascade Collegiate Conference men's standings heading into home games at 7:30 p.m. Friday against seventh-place Eastern Oregon and 7:30 p.m. Saturday against first-place College of Idaho.

With eight games left, the Knights look like a playoff team but want to maintain a top-four spot and play at home in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

Multnomah, meanwhile, enters 7:30 p.m. games against EOU on Friday and COI on Saturday in the final playoff spot. Friday's game between the Lions and Mountaineers featured the two highest scoring teams in the conference.

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