Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 11/17/14
Finish Strong At this point in the season, the Oregon Ducks basketball team could draw some inspiration from a Ducks football team motto: Fast. Hard. Finish. Currently the No. 23 in the country, the Ducks have rebounded in their past three games to mitigate the three straight conference losses they suffered after an injury to Dominic Artis. And while Artis’ status is still unknown (he was still using a boot during the Ducks’ game against Washington State on Saturday), Oregon looks as though they are starting to adapt to his absence better. Dominic Artis’ return is stillin question. (Photo: Chris Pietsch/Registerguard.com) While the Ducks still do need to make big improvements to be a legitimate NCAA Tournament team, impressive play by E.J. Singler and Carlos Emory is promising. Should Artis make a return to the lineup soon and still be aided by the production of these two players, the Ducks could very well see themselves into the latter stages of the tournament. In fact, numerous college basketball analysts have said the Ducks are a top-10 program with Artis in the lineup. Still, Oregon has gritted out close games against Utah, Washington, and Washington State to climb back in to the Pac-12 driver’s seat with just five games left on the schedule. And so, with time winding down for the Ducks to make their case for a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament, let’s preview the games ahead and what the Ducks can do to come out as victors. vs. California (2/21) California will come into this game as one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12 and the nation. Winning five of their last six games–including a win over the Ducks–the Golden Bears are trying to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament and currently find themselves as one of the last four teams in on Joe Lunardi’s bracket. The last time Oregon and Cal met in Berkeley, the Bears fought back in the final four minutes and gave Oregon their second conference loss of the season in a 58-54 victory. While Oregon has adjusted to the absence of Artis since then, the Ducks still have problems identifying their true go-to player at key moments in the game, something they will need to establish when they play host to the Bears on Thursday. While Singler, Emory, and Damyean Dotson are great players, none of them have been identified as THE guy for the Ducks. vs. Stanford (2/23) Stanford handed Oregon their first conference loss of the season as the Ducks could not get anything going in Palo Alto in an embarrassing 65-52 loss. Using precision shooting from the perimeter all game, the Cardinal easily handled an Oregon team that could not seem to find a basket by any means. Needless to say, the Ducks need to shoot a lot better at home against the Cardinal if they want to have a shot at this game. Stanford is a dangerous team that can play with a lot of energy and go on big runs at times. If the Ducks want to exact some revenge on Saturday, they will need to be able to find a way to counter Stanford’s runs. vs. Oregon State (2/28) Damyean Dotson has been a key player in Oregon’s uprising. (Photo: Scott Olmos/USA Today) Of all the games left on Oregon’s conference schedule, this one is probably the easiest. Though rivalry games always have a knack to be a lot closer than they should, Oregon easily took care of the Beavers in their first meeting of the season, sending Oregon State and their home fans unhappy with a 79-66 loss. While the Beavers did lead at halftime, Oregon used a ridiculous 51-point second half effort to separate themselves from their in-state rivals. That being said, the Ducks can’t look past the Beavers as they still can play very well at times. Oregon needs to play their game of basketball and not play down to the Beavers. at Colorado (3/7) Colorado and Oregon battled it out in a defensive standoff the last time these two teams met, resulting in a thrilling 48-47 victory for the Buffaloes. While it would be great if the Ducks could hold Colorado to just 48 points again, the Ducks need to find a way to put points on the board against a very dangerous team that is looking to improve their positioning for the NCAA Tournament. at Utah (3/9) This one should–cross your fingers–be an easy one. The Ducks already managed to beat the Utes without Artis, and hopefully this next time he’ll be back. If he’s not, however, all Oregon has to do is repeat the effort from their first contest against them–which admittedly wasn’t all that great. But still, it worked. If it’s not already evident, much of Oregon’s future this season relies on Artis’ return. Should he be healthy for the remaining games, the Pac-12 Tournament, and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Oregon could very well find themselves in the tournament longer than some would predic. CLICK HERE CHECK OUT THE DUCKS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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