Four games separate 7-3 Oregon and 3-7 Oregon State in the Pac-12 men's basketball standings. But expecting the Ducks to win comfortably at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Gill Coliseum would be foolish.
Three of Oregon's seven conference wins came in overtime. Only once in conference play — the 96-75 home win over UCLA — has Oregon put a game away before the closing minutes. And in conference road games, the Ducks are a fragile 3-3 after being badly outworked in their most recent game — a 70-60 loss to Stanford.
Oregon State is coming off the better weekend in the Bay Area. The Beavers handed Stanford its first home loss, then took Cal to the wire in a two-point loss.
This first Civil War meeting of the season is more critical to the Beavers. At 13-9 and 78th in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, the Beavers need a run of wins or else the Pac-12 tournament will be their only hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
The Ducks, given their strength of schedule and No. 18 NET ranking, are going to make the NCAAs. But in a season without a clearly dominant team, Oregon can land a favorable seed come if it can win a Pac-12 regular-season title.
If those stakes aren't enough to pique interest in Saturday's entanglement, the chance to watch seniors Payton Pritchard of Oregon and Tres Tinkle of Oregon State lead their teams in this rivalry game should. In an age where the best players hang around college programs only briefly, Pritchard (fourth year) and Tinkle (fifth year, fourth season) have been the face of each program for a while.
Pritchard this week was the only Pac-12 player named to the Wooden Award late-season top-20 watch list. He also was named one of 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award. Pritchard leads the Pac-12 in scoring (19.6 points pe game) and assists (5.8). He's one of Oregon's greats, but is only 3-3 against Oregon State.
Tinkle is third in the Pac-12 in scoring (19.2) and 12th in assists (3.6). He is 4-2 against Oregon, averaging 19 points and 7.3 rebounds per Civil War contest. The Beavers are 3-0 at Gill against the Ducks with Tinkle in the lineup.
• The beat goes on for the No. 3-ranked Oregon women's basketball team. The Ducks delivered another signature win on Monday by ending Connecticut's 66-game win streak at its on-campus arena and winning by the largest margin for an opponent at Gampel Pavilion, which opened in 1990.
Playing their third road game in five days, the Ducks' five starters were sensational while scoring all of Oregon's points in the 74-56 win.
Sabrina Ionescu (10 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists), Ruthy Hebard (22 points, 12 rebounds) and Satou Sabally (17 points, 10 rebounds) showed why all are on the late-season Wooden Award watch list. It didn't matter that Ionescu had an off night shooting (4 of 12 from the field) because Erin Boley hit a trio of early 3-pointers and scored 13 first-half points, and Minyon Moore played her most complete game of the season (12 points, 6 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot).
Most impressive was the Oregon defense, which used both an active zone and some man-to-man to disrupt and rattle UConn's attack. The Huskies shot 39.3%, and the Ducks turned 15 turnovers into 17 points. If not for 10 UConn 3-pointers, the margin would have been larger.
At halftime of the ESPN2 game, the first projected seeds for the NCAA Tournament were announced. The Ducks were No. 4, behind South Carolina, Baylor and Louisville, well-positioned to be a No. 1 seed in the Portland regional even before Monday's historic victory.
There isn't time to celebrate, though. No. 12 Arizona visits Matthew Knight Arena at 6 p.m. Friday, followed by a 2 p.m. Sunday game against the No. 19 Arizona State team that handed Oregon its only Pac-12 loss. Then comes an 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, visit to No. 11 UCLA. A Feb. 24 game at Stanford (6 p.m.) could decide the Pac-12 title.
So challenges aplenty await. But the Ducks have beaten four top-10 teams in just over two weeks, and if they play anywhere close to the defense they have in those games, it's hard to see them losing.
• The Oregon State women look to avenge losses when they play host to ASU at 8 p.m. Friday and Arizona at noon Sunday. The Beavers, ranked ninth in this week's AP poll, project as the No. 9 overall seed. They would be the No. 3 seed in the Fort Wayne regional, where Louisville would be the top seed and UConn the No. 2 seed.
• Citing the desire to play closer to home because of an illness in her family, former St. Mary's Academy standout Bendu Yeaney last week announced she was entering the transfer portal and leaving Indiana.
Yeaney started 69 of 70 games in her first two seasons with the Hoosiers. After recovering from an Achilles injury suffered last March in an NCAA Tournament game at Oregon, Yeaney played in six games off the bench this season, averaging 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds. In 76 games for Indiana, Yeaney averaged 8.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals.
She did not indicate where she will play next. In a press release from Indiana University, coach Teri Moren called it a difficult decision for Yeaney but said the program supports her desire to be closer to her family.
• The juggernaut schedule the Portland State men faced in January is about to shift in favor of the Vikings, who will play five of their last seven games at home. But first come road games against the fourth- and third-place teams in the Big Sky: Southern Utah on Saturday and Northern Colorado on Monday,
PSU (11-12, 5-6) is seventh in the Big Sky. The good news is it will have had eight days between games when it meets Southern Utah — a much-needed break that was even better because on Jan. 30 the Viks beat Montana, then in first place. That game featured a memorable performance from Holland "Boo Boo" Woods. The junior guard from Phoenix scored a career-high 39 points and set PSU and Big Sky records by making all 21 of his free throws.
"Montana's a good team, but we think we're a great team, too," Woods said. "No matter what the standings are right now, we think we're the best team in the league. We've got a tough team and tough coaches that are going to push us every single day."
Portland State coach Barret Peery likes the makeup of his team. He'll like it even better if senior guard Matt Hauser, the team's No. 2 scorer, returns this week after missing seven games with a bad ankle sprain.
While building a 49-30 halftime lead over Montana, Portland State's high-energy game was on full display. The Vikings had 17 first-half points off turnovers and 12 second-chance points.
"It started with defense. When we play great defense, we can make a run," Woods said. "That's what we're best at, playing in transition, making a team backpedal and keeping teams on their toes. You've just got to keep guarding, keep rebounding and going one-and-done on the defensive end and we'll be good."
Against Montana, all nine Vikings who played scored, eight grabbed a rebound and seven had an assist. Sal Nuhu had 10 points, five rebounds and three assists. And the Viks held top Montana scorer Sayeed Pridgett to 14 points, five below his average.
"We had great contributions from everybody," Peery said. "With Matt's injury, we've been able to get other guys great experience and just get ourselves stronger and stronger for the stretch run.
"Our guys have really hung in there. We've lost some close games that have really been heartbreaking for us, but we won some really great games, too."
Beating Montana was one of those.
• The Portland Pilots women came up short last week, missing an opportunity to move into a top-three spot in the West Coast Conference by dropping home games to second-place BYU (66-54) and third-place San Diego (62-58).
Yet it felt like another step forward for Michael Meek's Pilots (13-9, 6-5).
"Where we were at the beginning of the year to where we are now, to feel like we're playing at a competitive level with the top teams in our league, I'm really excited about that," Meek said. "But we're not where we want to be yet. We've got to improve our depth so we can play through the 40 minutes a little bit better."
Portland and San Diego each had 26 turnovers in an intense but sloppy contest on Saturday. Meek was glad his team forced so many turnovers and noted that USD's presure forces opponents into turnovers, too.
Despite turning an ankle in the second quarter, Portland sophomore point guard Haylee Andrews contributed 10 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists in 29 minutes.
Andrews' fellow Townsville, Australia, native Alex Fowler continued to impress with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots. The 6-1 Fowler, a standout for Australia's youth national teams, committed to Portland before it parted with previous coach Cheryl Sorenson. Fowler said she was "distraught" when Sorenson was let go. But her first communication with Meek cemented her commitment to the Pilots.
Even after a couple tough home losses, Fowler was upbeat.
"I think it's pretty cool that we play with these teams and come so close. For us to show these other teams that we're up there, we're not coming in 10th (in the WCC), is a really great achievement for us," Fowler said.
One of Fowler's goals is to become a consistent 3-point shooter, but she leads the WCC in scoring (17.9) primarily because of prowess around the basket. San Diego was able to keep the ball away from Fowler with some physical defending down the stretch.
"It's a lot more physical over here. You can get away with a lot of stuff," said Fowler, comparing college basketball with her experiences internationally. "I love the physicality, though. I like to give it back as well."
Fowler and the Pilots will try to get back in the win column with games Thursday at Saint Mary's and Friday at Pacific, which entered this week tied with Portland for fourth.
• The Portland men (9-15, 1-8) play host to third-place BYU at 7 p.m. Thursday at Chiles Center. On Saturday, UP visits San Diego, which beat the Pilots 77-67 on Jan. 18 for its only WCC win this season.
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