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Tempe native Casey Benson eyes Final Four in Glendale

Oregon guard Casey Benson looks on during a game against Arizona State on Thursday, March 9, 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Ducks won 80-57. (Photo by Josh Orcutt/Cronkite News)

LAS VEGAS — The NCAA Tournament looms for Oregon guard Casey Benson, and the road to the Final Four could lead him right back home.

If the Ducks advance to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Benson would be playing just down the road from where he grew up.

“It’s cliché, but it would be a dream come true,” Benson said. “To be able to play at home in the Final Four with an opportunity to go to a national championship would be surreal.”

Benson graduated from Corona del Sol High in Tempe in 2014 as a three-time state champion and the school’s career assists leader. Now, in his junior year in Eugene, he’s making plays and providing a positive presence for the Ducks.

The roots of Benson’s success are planted in Tempe, where former head coach Sam Duane Jr. continued a culture of winning first established by his father, Sam Sr.

The younger Duane remains one of Benson’s greatest influences on the basketball court. Benson also learned from watching Arizona State and Arizona games as a kid — taking with him the competitive fire that stems from the rivalry.

Being selfless, positive and a good teammate are principles that Benson adheres to.

“It’s fun to think about and reminisce on my high school years,” Benson said. “It was a blast to win three championships and play for coach Duane.”

During high school, Benson’s clutch shooting and knack for finding the open man made him a highly-sought recruit by schools in the west. One school that didn’t recruit him was Arizona — something that has left a substantial chip on his shoulder.

That chip was never more present than Oregon’s second regular season game against Arizona on Feb. 4. The Ducks blew out the Wildcats 85-58 and Benson led Oregon’s bench players with 13 points.

While the Ducks lost 83-80 to the Wildcats in the Pac-12 Tournament title game and Benson struggled, he maintains a relentlessly positive outlook. Within this outlook lies a desire for Oregon to join Arizona as a regular in the conference’s upper echelon.

“Arizona, in the Pac-12, they’ve been the leader for years now,” Benson said. “To be able to play them is exciting — they’re such a legendary program.

“I think with Dillon Brooks, me and Jordan Bell coming in the same class, we just wanted to try and build something special.”

Brooks, Bell and Benson have laid a foundation for the program’s sustained success. Last season, they earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and made it to the Elite Eight. This season, with relatively the same roster, they’re a No. 3 seed and face No. 14 seeded Iona in Sacramento in a first-round Midwest Region game.

Benson’s winning mentality — instilled at Corona — will prove crucial in the final stretch of Oregon’s season. With forward Chris Boucher sidelined due to a torn ACL, Benson will be relied upon even more to provide playmaking and lead Oregon’s thin bench.

If the Ducks are able to make that elusive Final Four run, it will be a homecoming for Benson, who grew up attending Cardinals games at the very stadium where he could win a national championship.

“You couldn’t write it any better,” Benson said.

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