In its final tuneup before Pac-10 play, Oregon looks to finish its non-conference schedule undefeated for the first time in a decade and continue its best start in 60 years when it hosts Portland on Thursday.
The 20th-ranked Ducks (11-0) are one of four unbeaten teams in Division I, and are off to their best start since going 12-0 in 1946-47. That season also marked the last time Oregon won 12 straight games.
The Ducks also need one more win to finish with a perfect record in non-conference play for the first time since 1996-97, when they won all eight games against non-league opponents. The team opens its Pac-10 schedule at Oregon State on Saturday.
“We have a great shot at going undefeated in our non-conference season and that would give us great momentum going into the conference season,” Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. “When you go into that second part of the season, everyone is back to 0-0.”
The Ducks lost 80-72 at Portland last season, but that Oregon team went just 6-6 against non-conference foes.
Plus, the Pilots (3-11) have lost 14 straight at the Ducks’ McArthur Court since winning there on Feb. 18, 1964—their only victory in 22 all-time visits.
Portland is 0-6 on the road, averaging just 53.5 points on 35.8 percent shooting.
Oregon has won by double digits in all eight of its home games, and has outscored opponents by an average of 22.0 points overall.
The Ducks were missing three starters in their 84-64 win over Mercer on Saturday. Leading scorer Tajuan Porter missed his third straight game with a sprained toe, Chamberlain Oguchi was out for a fifth consecutive game with a sprained left ankle and Malik Hairston sat out for the first time this season due to a heel injury.
It’s possible all three could be ready to return for Thursday’s game.
“We have a lot of talent that is hurt right now, but we should be healthy soon and the Pac-10 is in trouble once that happens,” said senior forward Adam Zahn, who got his first start of the season Saturday and finished with career highs of 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Maarty Leunen had a career-high 18 rebounds to lead Oregon to a 55-29 advantage on the boards. Leunen leads the Pac-10 with a 10.4 rebounding average.
Aaron Brooks scored a game-high 27 points and Bryce Taylor added 21 against Mercer. With Brooks, Taylor and Porter all averaging more than 16 points, Oregon has three of the Pac-10’s top six scorers.
Brooks led the Ducks with 13 points and seven assists in last year’s game against Portland.
Pilots guard Darren Cooper had 21 points in that contest, and he scored a season-high 23 in Portland’s 61-58 victory over Montana on Friday.
The senior guard made 4-of-5 from 3-point range and nine of 11 free throws, including two with 6.8 seconds left to help Portland snap an eight-game losing streak.
“I wanted to be a leader out there tonight and take it upon myself to make some plays down the stretch,” Cooper said on the team’s official Web site.
Since missing nine games with an injured hamstring, Cooper has averaged 16.7 points over the last three games while shooting 14-of-23 from the field, including 9-for-13 from beyond the arc.
Cooper may be responsible for an even greater part of the offense after sophomore guard Brian McTear was dismissed from school Tuesday for being ruled academically ineligible.
McTear averaged 6.6 points while starting all 14 games for the Pilots, and scored a team-high 14 in their 86-69 loss to then-No. 20 Notre Dame on Dec. 19.
Portland is 0-13 against ranked teams since 2000.