LOS ANGELES — After a blowout-turned-nail-biter, Joseph Young paused a second before putting a ribbon on Oregon’s fourth win in a row.

“At the end of the day, I thought the team did good,” the senior said. “We got the win and it was a big road win.”

The Ducks’ 80-75 win over USC was big. It was their sixth win in seven games. It kept the Ducks in the top tier of the Pac-12 standings and held their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. It was the exact end result that Dana Altman’s team needed heading into this two-game road trip in Southern California.

The way they got there just wasn’t pretty.

Twice Oregon blew double-digit leads. Twice the Trojans came out of nowhere, with zero momentum from an empty Galen Center, to pressure the Ducks. And though it was ugly, twice the Ducks thwarted the attempt.

Frustrating was the word Dana Altman used, but at the beginning of a road trip where the Ducks needed two victories to continue their upward trend, Altman was nonetheless relieved the Ducks came out breathing.  

“I’d rather not play as scripted and find a way to win than to play as scripted and lose one,” Altman said. “We’ll take it.”

Once again, Oregon leaned heavily on Young to secure it.

The Ducks led by as much as 14 points midway through the first half, but the Trojans pulled within eight at the break and opened the second on a tear. It took all of 2:45 for the Trojans to tie the game in the second with Katin Reinhardt evening the score at 39-39, completing a 12-4 run. Under normal circumstances this would send the home crowd into a frenzy, but the barren arena was only fueled by the amped up PA system and a yelling DJ.

With USC’s lack of home-court momentum, the Ducks made their move at 41-41.

Young hit consecutive shots, the Ducks made two stops and then Young completed his 7-0 run with a 3-pointer following an offensive rebound and dish from Elgin Cook to give Oregon a 48-41 lead. Young, who finished with 26 points, has scored 25 or more points in three straight games.

“Give him the ball,” said Cook, who finished with 15 points and six of Oregon’s 13 assists. “Let him go.”

Riding Young’s hot hand, Oregon pushed the lead to double digits, only for the Trojans to come right back. After shooting 33 percent in the first half, USC shot 60.6 in the second, bringing the game within three points at 76-73 after a Young travel.

USC had a shot to tie the game with under a minute left, but Reinhardt missed back-to-back three attempts and two Young free throws iced it.

After starting the season 0-3 on the road in conference, the Ducks have won two in a row. The difference now, though, is the Ducks aren’t happy with just squeaking by. The mood after the game was noticeably toned down from Oregon’s last road win, an overtime win over Arizona State.

“I felt like we got the big lead and we didn’t maintain it,” Young said. “We got to do a better job of maintaining that.”

But for as ugly as it was Wednesday night, Oregon’s ability to come away with the victory gives the Ducks another opportunity to improve in meaningful situations. The Ducks are on the rise in the Pac-12 and nationally, with Oregon finding its way into many NCAA Tournament bubble conversations. A loss against USC, the worst team in the Pac-12, would have been devastating for the Ducks’ hopes. Now, they have sole possession of third place in the conference – Stanford, tied with Oregon entering the day, plays Thursday – and harbor as much momentum as anybody in the country.

The frustration that Altman and some players felt after the win was a different kind than they felt just a month ago. Then, the Ducks lost games to Washington State and Washington after blowing big first-half leads. That frustration came from watching an upstart season possibly crumble before it ever really got going.

On Wednesday in Southern California, it was a winner’s frustration. They stumbled but recovered. On Saturday against UCLA, they’ll be looking to tune the pieces from an already winning performance.

“We found a way to win,” Altman said, “which is always important.”

— Tyson Alger
talger@oregonian.com
@tysonalger

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