They beat Arizona, they beat UCLA and now the Oregon Ducks don’t have to play either one of those teams again this season. That good fortune should instantly classify the Ducks as the new favorites to win the Pac 12.
Oregon secured a huge road victory on Saturday as they went into Pauley Pavilion and beat up UCLA 76-67 to improve to 16-2 (5-0). The win propelled the Ducks into first place in the conference as they are the only undefeated team during Pac 12 play. Not only is Oregon in first place but they are off to their best conference start since 1974 and are ranked for the first time since 2007.
In the preview of this game earlier today the x-factor was the rebounding battle and it proved to be the difference in the ballgame. All game long Oregon was active on both the defensive and offensive boards eventually leading to a 38-28 rebounding advantage for the Ducks. Going into the game, Oregon was the second best team in the conference with a 9.3 rebounding margin and they once again won that battle on Saturday. On top of winning the overall rebounding battle the Ducks notched 11 offensive boards leading to multiple second-chance opportunities that they were able to take advantage of.
Time and time again Oregon was able to control the battle on the boards and it ultimately allowed them to control the pace of the game in their favor. Arsalan Kazemi put up a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds but it was his timely rebounds late in the game that mattered the most. He collected clutch offensive boards late in the second half that immediately led to second chance layups and the game sealing 14-7 run.
Oregon has now emerged as the favorite to walk away with the Pac 12 regular season title and it says a lot about the job coach Dana Altman has done in just his third season in Eugene. His team is young, athletic, talented and ready to be considered the best in the conference.
With what they’ve done already, and what’s ahead of them, how could they not be the conference favorites moving forward? At this point the only team that can really prevent them from being the top team in the Pac 12 is Oregon themselves.
David LaRose is one of the featured College Basketball writers for Rant Sports covering the Pac 12 and the University of Colorado. He’s also a member of the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association of America. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.