For the Ducks to make the NCAA tournament, they will likely have to sweep the Arizona schools this week and also advance to at least the semi-finals of the Pac-10 tournament. Arizona State and Arizona, on the other hand, needs only one or two more wins to solidify their selections to college basketball's premier event.
"My thought process is that it's three teams needing two wins, and they all come through Mac Court," Kent said. "It's about us protecting our home turf. It's the seniors' last two home games. It's NCAA tournament hopes. There's a lot on the line this weekend, and I don't know if there's been a bigger weekend for us with this group than this weekend right here. So, we need to get it done."
For five graduating seniors – Maarty Leunen, Malik Hairston, Bryce Taylor, Ray Schafer and Mitch Platt – this week's home stand will be the final two home games in what has been an unpredictable, and in many ways unprecedented, four years at the University of Oregon.
"There's a lot of reflecting to do," Taylor said. "I'll probably wait a little bit, until the season's over, to think about my entire career and how these four years have gone. As far as this season goes, we can't say that it has gone the way that we thought it would, or the way that we wanted it to, but right now we have a chance in these last two games to get big wins for our team in hopes of our team going to the NCAA tournament. We need to make sure we take advantage of the opportunity that we have. We need to play our hardest, and play our best basketball right now."
The last time Oregon faced Arizona State, the Sun Devils used a late 13-2 run, behind seven points from Derek Glasser in the final three minutes to win 62-54. Junior Jeff Pendergraph and Freshman James Harden combined for 37 points in a game that was truly defined by defense. Oregon committed 16 turnovers against Arizona State's stifling zone defense, a statistic of which the Ducks are astutely aware.
"It was a close game down there," Taylor said. "We've had a lot of (close games) this season. We made some crucial turnovers coming down the stretch, something that been a consistent problem for us this season. We would hope to just score against their zone and give a good defensive effort."
For this week's match-up, Leunen will need to control the paint against Jeff Pendergraph, while Taylor has drawn the difficult assignment of guarding Harden, one of the top freshmen in the country. Harden, 4th in the Pac-10 and Sun Devil leader in scoring at 17.9 points per game, is a scorer who excels at getting defenders in the air with a pump-fake and either blowing by them for an easy two, or drawing enough contact to get to the free-throw line - he went to the line for 10 free-throw attempts against the Ducks in their last match-up. Taylor knows that he is going to have to play disciplined defense and stay out of foul trouble if he hopes to contain Harden.
"I just need to try and make it as difficult as possible for him," said Taylor. "They run a lot of plays for him, because he's a great player and a really strong player. He has that will to just get to the bucket and score. So, it'll be a great challenge for me."
Offensively, the Ducks are hopeful that Leunen continues to end the season with his own personal "Maarty Paarty," and that the rest of Oregon's key contributors on the offensive end of the floor - Taylor, Hairston and Tajuan Porter - follow suit.
Against the Oregon State Beavers, Leunen scored a career-high 32 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Leunen hit 7-of-8 from three-point range, which vaulted him into the Pac-10 lead for three-point percentage (.529). That mark would be an Oregon record for a season (currently held by Anthony Lever's .500 in 2002) and would be the second highest three-point percentage in Pac-10 history, behind only Arizona's Steve Kerr, who shot .573 from deep in 1988. Also stepping up was LeKendrick Longmire, who shot 6-of-6 from the field against the Beavers on Sunday.
"I think with LeKendrick, it's all about confidence," Kent said. "When he puts in time, he gets a lot more confidence – time in the gym. He certainly helped us at OSU. I don't know if we win the game without his performance, because he played very, very well. If he can continue that, it's only going to help us down the stretch. He brings an energy level to the floor that really elevates our intensity, and that is a big plus coming off the bench."
Oregon has struggled throughout much of the year to limit turnovers, which is something it will have to remedy against the Sun Devils, who are second and third in the Pac-10 in steals and field-goal percentage defense, respectively.
Kent summed up his thoughts on this weekend's significance by explaining that his team needs to simply focus on winning basketball games.
"At the end of the day, when it's all said and done, our job is just to keep winning games, close out the year the right way, try to win as many games as we can, and then sit around and speculate after that."
Note: Traditionally, Kent has started all the seniors to begin the last home game of their careers; however, he said that this will not be the case against Arizona.
Oregon faces Arizona State in Bubble Battle
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