By ANNE M. PETERSON (AP Sports Writer)
The Oregon Ducks personified the up-and-down season.
They won 13 straight to start, then dipped with losses in eight of their next 10 games before ending regular season on a seven-game winning streak.
The Ducks wrapped up their 24-10 season with an 85-77 third-round loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament. It was the second straight year that Oregon had reached the NCAAs after a four-year drought.
Going into the West Regional in Milwaukee, coach Dana Altman said the late-season rebound defined the Ducks this season.
“You know, a lot of teams would have folded, a lot of teams could have given into it. I was really proud the way the guys fought it and stayed with it,” Altman said. “We had four two-point losses, two at home to Stanford and UCLA and two on the road at Arizona and Arizona State. It was a long month, and the guys could have folded, but they didn’t.”
Oregon’s season started with uncertainty. Although the Ducks were ranked No. 19 in the preseason AP poll, they lost four key seniors from the previous season when they went 28-9 and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.
Oregon added a couple of playmakers in guard Joseph Young, a junior transfer from Houston who averaged 18 points per game last season, and forward Mike Moser, a native Oregonian who had played for UNLV. The Ducks were picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 behind Arizona, UCLA and Colorado.
After opening the season with an 82-75 victory over Georgetown at Camp Humphreys, a U.S. Army base in South Korea, the Ducks ran through their next 12 opponents and rose to No. 10 in the rankings.
There were concerns about Oregon’s rebounding and defense, which caused the Ducks problems at the start of Pac-12 play. Oregon lost five straight, their longest streak since 2011.
When it looked as if Oregon’s chances of even making the tournament were slim at best, the Ducks went on the season-ending seven-game winning streak, capped by a 64-57 victory over then-No. 3 Arizona at Matthew Knight Arena.
The season included a few other pitfalls.
Oregon dealt at the start of the season with the suspensions of guard Dominic Artis and forward Ben Carter for selling team apparel. Both players were sidelined for the first nine games of the season.
There was some negative attention on the Ducks during the tournament when allegations surfaced that an Oregon transfer – Brandon Austin – was under investigation by police in Rhode Island for alleged sexual assault while playing at Providence. Austin has not yet played for the Ducks.
“Over time, we gathered all the information we could and felt comfortable with our decision”, Altman said when asked by reporters at the Milwaukee regional.
The Ducks finished 10-8 and in third place in the Pac-12 regular-season standings, and while they didn’t win the conference tournament like in the previous year, their season was good enough to get them into the tournament as a No. 7 seed.
Oregon opened the tournament with an 87-68 victory over BYU before falling to second-seeded Wisconsin. Young finished with 29 points for the Ducks but he missed a rushed 3-pointer from the wing, and the Badgers sealed the victory at the free throw line.
Oregon was led this season by Young, who averaged 18.9 points. Moser averaged 13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds. Senior Johnathan Loyd averaged 7.0 points this season.
“Really good guys. Really enjoyed working with them. Really going to miss the seniors,” Altman said. “It never changes. Thirty-four years, that last one, it hurts. This group, it really hurts because Johnny and those guys are good guys. We could have, should have, won that game. We didn’t get it done. That hurts. That hurts.”