Oregon stays hot to beat Stanford, dampens Cardinal bubble hopes
Oregon coach Dana Altman is a lot things: loved, hated, criticized, lauded. And there's something he definitely is: a really good basketball coach.
After an off-season mired by controversy involving an alleged sexual assault and three players—which led to their dismissal—many believed the Ducks would implode this season. Returning just three scholarship players and picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll, Oregon is now one or two wins away from locking up an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament after a 73-70 win at Stanford.
The victory was crucial for Oregon on multiple levels: It marks the Ducks’ first road sweep of the Bay Area schools since 1976 (Oregon won at Cal 80-69 Wednesday night). The Cardinal and Bears have been particularly vexing to Altman in his tenure. Before Wednesday Altman was 0-7 against Cal along with 1-2 against Stanford in their past three games, even though the Cardinal has struggled in recent years. Sunday’s win also secures Oregon a first-round bye in the Pac-12 conference tournament next week in Vegas. But most importantly, it’s another line on Oregon’s resume as the Ducks try to earn their third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, which would be a program record.
Stanford, meanwhile, is all but out of the NCAA tournament picture, unless the Cardinal can win a game during next week’s Arizona road trip, or make a run in the conference tournament. Considering Stanford has lost three of its last five games, that seems unlikely.
Plenty has been made this season about the quality of play across college basketball, and understandably so. But in a game that featured 17 lead changes and 11 ties, Oregon-Stanford was, at the very least, entertaining. It also played host to two of the best individuals in the Pac-12 and at the end, it was Oregon’s Joseph Young who left smiling.
Tied at 68-68 with 1:59 to play, Oregon’s Elgin Cook attacked the rim and dropped in a layup that gave the Ducks’ a two-point edge. Two free throws from Stanford’s Stefan Nastic tied it up with 1:01 to play and after a steal from Stanford’s Michael Humphrey, the Cardinal had a shot to defend its 13-2 home record.
Then Chasson Randle, one of the best players on the west coast, casually threw a one-handed pass across the floor with 17 seconds to play that Oregon’s Dwayne Benjamin picked off. Benjamin turned that into a one-point Oregon advantage after splitting a pair of free throws and Randle again came up short on Stanford’s next possession, splitting two defenders and shooting an awkward floater that bounced off the rim. It was a horrible last 44 seconds from a senior who should know better. Oregon's Young, another contender for Pac-12 player of the year, iced the win with two free throws with three seconds to play.
Young finished with 21 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Cook chipped in 21 points and five assists of his own. Benjamin had 15 off the bench. Randle led Stanford with 17 points, but shot just 6 for 18 from the field. He notched six assists, but his only turnover came on the most crucial possession.
[daily_cut]Perhaps best of all for the Ducks, they are playing their best basketball when they need to. Oregon has just one regular season conference game left, at Oregon State Wednesday night. The Ducks beat the Beavers 71-59 in early January in Eugene, and on paper, are superiorly talented. Rivalry games are weird, though, and Oregon State has been terrific at home this year with a 15-1 record. Oregon got its signature win last week with a 69-58 victory over Utah, another boost to its tourney resume. After a stumble at UCLA on Feb. 14, the Ducks have regrouped. They’ve won eight of their last nine. Behind Young and Cook, Oregon has the pieces to get to the Pac-12 tournament title game, which would further bolster its postseason hopes.
And considering Oregon's offseason, the job Altman and his players have done appears even more impressive.