EUGENE — In a game of numbers, the Oregon Ducks will be trying to protect a couple and increase a couple of others when they take on Washington State tonight in a Pac-12 men’s basketball contest at Matthew Knight Arena.
The numbers at stake are seven and 18 for winning streaks, along with 16 and 19 for Oregon’s ranking in the national polls.
And don’t the Ducks know all those figures are like expanded targets for an opposing team.
“Everybody is going to be coming for us now," junior Johnathan Loyd said Monday. “We’re not going to be the team hunting other teams now, we’re going to be the one hunted."
On the basis of its weekend road sweep of USC and UCLA, Oregon (16-2 overall, 5-0 in the Pac-12) climbed from No. 21 to 16th in The Associated Press voting by the media and to No. 19 in the USA Today voting done by the coaches; both polls were announced Monday. It was Oregon’s first appearance this season in the USA Today poll.
The loss to the Ducks knocked UCLA out of both rankings. The only other Pac-12 team currently ranked is Arizona, at No. 6 in both polls.
Oregon’s 70-66 home triumph over Arizona is the only defeat for the Wildcats, who likely without that loss would be No. 1 as the nation’s only unbeaten team.
That win over Arizona is also part of both current Oregon winning streaks: seven games overall and 18 consecutive victories at Matthew Knight Arena.
And along with Oregon being 5-0 in the conference for the first time since the 1973-74 season, the Ducks tonight will be attempting to win their first six conference games for the first time since they went 10-0 in the 1925-26 season as members of the Pacific Coast Conference.
The 18-game home winning streak, which dates back to a loss to Oregon State on Jan. 29, 2012, is currently the seventh-longest such streak in the nation.
Not that the Ducks are thinking any more about those streaks than about their position in the national polls.
“Those things on January 21st don’t mean much," UO coach Dana Altman said of the rankings. “It’s nice, it shows that we’ve made some progress, (but) our team this year has a lot further to go.
“All it means is that people get a little more excited to play us."
E.J. Singler called the rise in the polls “an honor" but put it in the perspective of being a step along Oregon’s path to bigger goals, such as “hopefully we can get back to the NCAA tournament and win a Pac-12 championship. That’s what I’m looking for."
The Ducks last played in the NCAA tournament in 2008. The last time Oregon won a conference regular-season title was 2002, the only one for the school since World War II, although Oregon did win the conference tournament in both 2003 and 2007.
About the only thing Oregon’s weekend sweep did not do for the Ducks was earn a player-of-the-week honor from the Pac-12. That went to Mark Lyons of Arizona, who scored 24 points and had three rebounds, three assists and three steals in a win at Arizona State.
Oregon’s nominee for the honor was senior Tony Woods, who averaged 14 points in Los Angeles despite battling illness. Woods had a career-high 18 points in the win over UCLA as he made eight of nine field-goal attempts.
No UO player has been chosen as the conference player of the week this season.