Oregon-Southern Cal Preview

The Associated Press

Oregon is hoping this stay in the Top 25 lasts much longer than its previous one.

The No. 21 Ducks are ranked for the first time in five years, and they'll look for their first 4-0 start in conference play since 1973-74 on Thursday night when they visit a Southern California team playing its first game under an interim coach.

Oregon (14-2, 3-0 Pac-12) has won five straight overall, with victories over then-No. 4 Arizona and Arizona State by a combined seven points in its last two games.

That has vaulted the program into the Top 25 for the first time since Dec. 17, 2007. Oregon lost to Oakland six days later and fell out of the rankings the next week.

The Ducks last won their first three conference games in 2001-02, and the league was called the Pac-8 the last time they were 4-0, 39 years ago.

Sunday's 68-65 home win against the Sun Devils was the Ducks' first this season in which they shot worse from the field than their opponent. They had been 0-2 in such games, losing to Cincinnati and UTEP.

Arizona State shot 47.3 percent while Oregon hit just 40.7 percent, but coach Dana Altman's team relied on its free-throw shooting late, going 7 of 8 in the final minute and 14 for 15 in the game. Oregon is shooting 74.6 percent from the stripe this season.

"We were very fortunate on a night where nothing seemed to click," Altman said. "I do not know if it was our overall focus but we had a difficult time getting into a smooth rhythm. Overall, I am pleased that we found a way to win even when we weren't very sharp."

The Ducks, who have five players averaging 10.1 points per game or more, still saw a nice scoring balance, getting 14 points each from Tony Woods, Carlos Emory and Damyean Dotson. Six different players have recorded at least 16 in a game this season.

"I like the balance of our team," said Emory, third on the team at 10.5 ppg. "I like that we have plenty of guys who can score, so that if someone is having an off night, someone else can step in."

USC (7-10, 2-2) snapped a 14-game road losing streak with a 76-59 win at Utah on Saturday, but it wasn't enough to keep coach Kevin O'Neill from being fired Monday. Assistant Bob Cantu will take over as interim coach.

"Despite a nice road win in our last game, I felt it was best to make a change now, with most of the Pac-12 season still ahead of us, in order to re-energize our team," athletic director Pat Haden said.

O'Neill went 48-65 in three-plus seasons, and USC set a school record for most losses in 2011-12 while going 6-26. The Trojans lost nine of the coach's last 13 games.

"We just didn't win enough last year and this year. That's what this business is," O'Neill said. "We tried to do as well as we could, tried to get the program to the highest level. My goal every day going in there was to try to win a national title."

Second-leading scorer J.T. Terrell (9.3 ppg) scored a team-high 14 against the Utes in his first start since Dec. 8. The former Wake Forest guard came off the bench in his previous six games after shooting 30.4 percent from the field while starting the season's first nine contests.

Oregon has won five in a row in the series, including a pair of 10-point victories in its last two visits to the Galen Center.

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