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Ducks ready to defend Pac-12 title

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Whatever it was that caused Oregon to stumble at the start of the Pac-12 season has no doubt been resolved as the team heads into the conference tournament.

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After a streak where they lost eight of 10, the Ducks have won seven straight - including a court-rushing upset of Arizona last Saturday - to give them renewed determination.

Oregon will face rival Oregon State in the opening round of the tournament on Wednesday in Las Vegas. The Ducks won the tournament last season, earning an NCAA tournament berth which they rode all the way to the Sweet Sixteen.

The winner of the postseason Civil War game will play second-seeded UCLA on Thursday night in the quarterfinals.

It won't be official until Sunday, but Oregon vastly improved its chances of an NCAA bid with the victory over the Wildcats.

Following the game, coach Dana Altman reflected on the path the Ducks have taken over the course of the season. Oregon won its first 13 games, jumping up to No. 10 in the AP rankings, before sliding with five straight losses.

The Ducks would lose eight of 10 before rebounding to win the next seven.

''Are you glass-half-empty or glass-half-full?'' Altman mused. ''The half-full says we played our tails off and really got it going. The half-empty is, `What the heck were we doing for those eight games?' I screwed a couple of them up. If I am going to ask my players to take responsibility and accountability, I just didn't have us in the right sets, didn't get us to execute. The connection wasn't there, the communication wasn't there and that is disappointing as a coach.''

Luckily Oregon learned from its mistakes.

''A lot of guys would have lost faith,'' Altman said. ''Fortunately, these guys didn't.''

Johnathan Loyd, last season's conference tournament MVP, said he knew the Ducks would turn things around. Interestingly enough, Oregon's current winning streak started on Feb. 16 when they beat Oregon State 93-83 at Matthew Knight Arena.

''This is exactly what I envisioned,'' Loyd said. ''I don't want to say I told you so, but I did: Just us battling through adversity and coming out on top right now. But it's not over yet.''

First off, the Beavers.

Oregon has played its in-state rival twice this season, splitting the series with each team winning on its home court.

The Beavers are coming off a 78-76 overtime win over Arizona State in the season finale, but they've lost six of their last nine.

Forward Eric Moreland said the victory over the Sun Devils was important for Oregon State's confidence going into the conference tournament.

''That's an NCAA tournament team we just beat, and in order to play in the postseason, you have to beat teams like that,'' Moreland said. ''They're probably going to go to the tournament, so I feel like our confidence is already high.''

The Beavers and the Ducks have met an NCAA-record 341 times, but this is the first time they'll play each other in the Pac-12 tournament. The Beavers are the only team the Ducks haven't faced in the conference tourney.

Seventh-seeded Oregon has won the Pac-12 tournament three times since it was brought back in 2002, and it beat UCLA last year for the automatic NCAA tournament berth. Tenth-seeded Oregon State has never won it.

''The exciting thing is if we can play long enough, there's a lot of exciting things still there,'' Altman said.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2015
The Associated Press
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