By Sam McPherson

The Stanford Cardinal lost to the Oregon Ducks, 73-70, Sunday night at Maples Pavilion in men’s basketball to see their record fall to 18-10 with just two games left in conference play. The team will travel to Arizona later this week to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils on Thursday night and the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday afternoon in its attempt to secure a .500-plus league record.

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Overall, the Cardinal (18-10 overall, 9-7 in the Pac-12) look like strong contenders for an NCAA Tournament bid, based on its solid RPI mark (51, before the loss to the surging Ducks) and season-long consistency. Stanford doesn’t have a “signature” win, but the team hasn’t lost more than two in a row all season. If the Cardinal can manage to defeat the Wildcats on the road Saturday, that could really be the clincher in their NCAA profile.

Arizona beat Stanford in Palo Alto back on January 22 by a mere seven points, and while the Wildcats have been in the Top 10 for most of the season, the Cardinal can clearly play with them. They just need to be close to perfect to beat one of the best teams in the country this year, and Stanford will get its chance this week.

As for the Oregon loss yesterday, Stanford was behind at halftime and fought all the way through the second half before falling in the final minute. Chasson Randle had a chance for the game-winning basket with just five seconds left, trailing by one, but he couldn’t get his jumper to fall. The Ducks tacked on two free throws before stealing the ball with one second left to clinch the victory. The loss to Oregon drops Stanford to into a tie for fourth place in the Pac-12.

“I don’t think it kills our [NCAA tournament] chances,” said Head Coach Johnny Dawkins after the loss. “We still have our opportunities. We still have a number of games to play: We have two regular season games to play on the road against some very good teams, and we also have the Pac-12 Tournament. We just have to focus and finish up strong down the stretch to give ourselves an opportunity.”

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Now, the Cardinal have to beat Arizona State to secure a winning record in the league, and if they can win at least one more game after that—against Arizona or in the first round of the conference tournament March 11-4—then Stanford also will have a 20-win season going for it come selection time. Those two factors make it hard for the Selection Committee to ignore a team from the Pac-12, or any major conference.

The good news is the Cardinal beat the Sun Devils in January by 19 points, and they should be able to replicate the feat in Tempe on Thursday evening. While ASU did hand rival Arizona one of its three losses this season, overall the Sun Devils haven’t been a very consistent team this year as evidenced by their 15-13 overall mark.

Stanford did beat two ranked teams already this year: Texas on the road in overtime last December and Washington at home in early January—also in overtime. Those two wins may not be enough to carry the Cardinal to March Madness, however, unless they can get that requisite conference record and the aforementioned 20 wins.

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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.