Don Ryan / AP
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 | 2 a.m.
In terms of location, the University of Oregon is one of the four farthest Pac-12 schools from Las Vegas.
Funny, then, that the Ducks’ basketball team has more Southern Nevada flavor than any other conference rival. Four of Oregon’s top nine players, in terms of minutes, suiting up this week at the MGM Grand Garden Arena for the Pac-12 Tournament boast strong Las Vegas ties.
“It’s something different and unique for them to go back there and play in front of everybody, so they’ll be fired up,” Oregon coach Dana Altman told The Register-Guard.
Altman was referring specifically to senior guard Johnathan Loyd and sophomore forward Ben Carter, who grew up locally before stacking accolades and state championships at Bishop Gorman High School. But the same statement could easily describe sophomore guard Dominic Artis, a former Findlay Prep standout, and senior forward Mike Moser, who spent the previous three years at UNLV.
Moser has more strongly resembled the All-American candidate he became in 2012 with the Rebels than last year’s injury-ravaged shell of himself down the stretch. He’s won two straight Pac-12 Player of the Week awards.
Moser has averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds on Oregon’s seven-game winning streak, which it carries into its Pac-12 Tournament opener against rival Oregon State at 6 tonight.
“He seems like he’s a little younger now,” Loyd told The Register-Guard of Moser. “He’s moving well. He’s going after every rebound. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. He doesn’t want to lose. This is his last go-around.”
Loyd knows something about winning at all costs. He took Oregon off the March Madness bubble in the Pac-12 Tournament last year, celebrating his homecoming by leading his team to three straight victories for the title.
Loyd scored 19 points off the bench in the championship game against UCLA to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. He’s entrenched as a starter this year and will need to lead the Ducks to an extra victory — as the No. 7 seed, they have to play four games instead of three — for a repeat.
“Hopefully, Johnny will play as well as he did a year ago,” Altman said.
Altman added he was looking for consistency out of Carter. Oregon’s last game, a 64-57 victory over regular-season champion Arizona, may work as the perfect launching point.
Carter had one of his best games of the season in Oregon’s biggest win as he chipped in five points, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals off the bench. At times, Carter and Artis have struggled to find their roles after they both served nine-game suspensions for selling team-supplied shoes to start the season.
Loyd thought the time away was particularly hard for Artis, who was a starter last season, because of his point-guard position and a different style the team adopted.
“I just feel like he hasn’t gotten into his rhythm or his flow,” Loyd said. “That’s all, but he can break out any time. The man is great. He’s a really good basketball player.”
It will be a thrill for local basketball fans to see the Oregon foursome in action, but the Ducks are far from the only team that will look familiar to Las Vegas. More than half of the teams playing at the MGM carry a connection to the valley.
Click through below to read about the rest, which are presented in descending order of strongest ties to the area.
First game: 8:30 tonight against Washington State
Local relevance: The Cardinal have the Allen triplets on their roster. OK, so they’re not really triplets. But it’s ironic that on-the-hot-seat coach Johnny Dawkins landed all three Las Vegas standouts with the last name “Allen” over the past few years. Sophomore Rosco Allen chose Stanford after establishing himself as a top-100 recruit at Bishop Gorman two years ago. Freshmen twins Marcus and Malcolm Allen followed after starring at Centennial last season. Marcus, the 2013 Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year, played a season-high 21 minutes in Stanford’s last game, a 61-60 win over Utah. Malcolm has appeared in 13 games. Dealing with a stress fracture in his foot, Rosco has played in only one game this season after being effective at times as a freshman.
First game: Noon Thursday against the winner of Utah vs. Washington
Local relevance: Two of the biggest reasons why Arizona will likely claim a No. 1 seed Sunday in the NCAA Tournament are blue-chip recruits from Henderson-based Findlay Prep. Junior point guard Nick Johnson is the Wildcats’ rock and the Pac-12 Player of the Year. He averages a team-high 16 points per game, nine less than he tallied per game in a dazzling senior season for the Pilots. Sophomore forward Brandon Ashley showed up at Findlay Prep the next year and played under current UNLV assistant Todd Simon. Ashley was in the middle of a breakout season, averaging 11.5 points and six rebounds, when Arizona lost him for the year to a torn ligament in his foot. The Wildcats were 21-0 with Ashley — including a 63-58 win over UNLV that was one of their toughest games — but have gone just 7-3 without him. He’ll be easy to spot as the most vocal teammate on the bench.
First game: Noon today against Utah
Local relevance: The Pac-12 awarded Arizona’s Aaron Gordon with its Freshman of the Year award, but Washington’s Nigel Williams-Goss could concoct quite an argument. The point guard was impactful from the moment he stepped foot in Seattle, recording 13 points, four assists and four rebounds per game for the Huskies. No one who has paid attention in Las Vegas is surprised. Williams-Goss was Findlay Prep’s first-ever four-year player, leading the program to two national championships. He drew a large local buzz by committing to UNLV before his sophomore season but backed off when Lon Kruger left for Oklahoma.
First game: 2:30 today against Colorado
Local relevance: As the last seed after a 2-16 regular-season conference campaign under first-year coach Andy Enfield, the Trojans are mostly looking toward the future. A big part of that future is local point guard Julian Jacobs. A year after leading Desert Pines to the Division 1-A state championship, Jacobs has started 19 games as a true freshman for USC. He has come off the bench during the past three weeks and provided a spark in the role. When USC beat Washington State 79-68 on the road last week, Jacobs dished nine assists, grabbed nine rebounds and tossed in seven points.
First game: 6 Thursday night against the winner of Oregon vs. Oregon State
Local relevance: Rest easy, Steve Alford. The UCLA coach can actually come to town without griping about UNLV getting to play at the Thomas & Mack Center in its conference tournament. That became a yearly whine with Alford when he was at New Mexico from 2007-13. It didn’t seem to matter much the past two seasons when Alford led the Lobos over the Rebels and into the winner’s circle of the conference tournament. Now he looks to continue the success a mile down Tropicana Avenue.
First game: 8:30 Thursday night against the winner of Stanford vs. Washington State
Local relevance: Out of all of UNLV’s losses this year, the early-season 86-80 defeat to Arizona State looks among the least offensive looking back. Jahii Carson’s 40 points in that game turned out to be an omen of what was to come, as the sophomore guard was the Pac-12’s second-leading scorer with 18.9 per game. Arizona State is headed to its first NCAA Tournament in five years, since when James Harden was a senior, but looks to improve its positioning with a second trip to Sin City in four months.
First game: 2:30 Thursday against the winner of Colorado vs. USC
Local relevance: The Golden Bears arrive at the MGM in the same position they were in a year ago — on the bubble. Many locals remain upset they found their way in last season as the Bears ousted the Rebels 64-61 in the first round. Five of the six players who scored points in that game for Cal are back, including swift-shooting Justin Cobbs.