Oregon-Arizona St. Preview
Oregon hasn't won a regular-season conference championship in 14 years, but it has emerged as one of the favorites following three consecutive quality victories.
First-year coach Bobby Hurley is trying to rebuild Arizona State into a contender in the Pac-12, and he's seen some improvement lately.
The 23rd-ranked Ducks look to beat the Sun Devils for the seventh time in eight meetings when they square off Sunday night in Tempe.
Oregon (17-4, 6-2) began conference play in mediocre fashion, losing at rival Oregon State, and had a three-game win streak snapped Jan. 17 at Colorado. It bounced back by sweeping a two-game homestand, beating then-No. 21 USC and knocking off UCLA.
The Ducks followed with their biggest statement victory Thursday, ending No. 18 Arizona's 49-game home winning streak with an 83-75 win. The Wildcats shot 61 percent from the field - the best mark for an Oregon opponent in 15 years - but the Ducks forced 19 turnovers and committed a season-low six.
Oregon hasn't won the regular-season conference crown since 2001-02, but Arizona coach Sean Miller believes the Ducks have what it takes to end that drought.
''They are a hard-playing unit, together as a team, and they love each other," Miller said. "You can tell they care a lot about their university and they care a lot about their program. You can kind of feel that they're playing for a cause, and that cause is to win.''
Dillon Brooks scored 24 points, and the sophomore forward is averaging 21.0 over his last five. He's shooting 53.6 percent in that span while going 9 of 21 from 3-point range after previously hitting 13 of 54 (24.1 percent).
''I was shooting it bad in non-conference (games). I worked on it, worked on it, worked on it and it paid off," Brooks said. "It's an amazing feeling."
Elgin Cook added 13 against the Wildcats, and his 23 points helped Oregon win 68-67 in overtime at Arizona State in the last meeting Jan. 30, 2015. The Ducks are hoping this contest isn't nearly as competitive with the Sun Devils (12-9, 2-6) sitting near the bottom of the conference.
Hurley took over a program that has made just one NCAA Tournament appearance in the last six seasons and knows he needs to be patient before Arizona State reaches that level again.
The Sun Devils had dropped six of seven before impressing Hurley with Thursday's 86-68 home win over Oregon State. They shot a season-high 59.3 percent from the field and had five players score in double figures, led by Obinna Oleka's 17 points.
Arizona State held the Beavers to 43.1 percent and was much better defensively after allowing an average of 80.3 points through its first seven conference games.
Leading scorer Tra Holder finished with eight points and took only six shots after averaging 14.4 attempts over his previous seven, but he held Beavers star Gary Payton II to two points.
"It's a good feeling right now to see the team play that way," Hurley said. "It started on defense, how we guarded them in the first half. The numbers reflected that. I thought we had great energy, getting deflections and generating stops."
Holder could be tasked in this contest with guarding Cook, who is averaging 17.5 points in the last four games.
Cook has attempted a team-high 102 free throws and now must deal with the ASU student section's "Curtain of Distraction," which on Thursday featured a shirtless Michael Phelps trying to distract opposing shooters. Oregon is among the Pac-12's worst free-throw shooting teams at 69.2 percent. Oregon State went 9 of 20 on Thursday.