Oregon Basketball and the Season of New: A Cold StartPosted by Rockne Roll on November 16th, 2012
The weather in Oregon can do strange things. In the week leading up to the Ducks’ home opener against Northern Arizona, the weather shifted from cool and rainy to downright cold, and it was frequently the topic of conversation across the western half of the state. In the span of a day, high temperatures dropped from the mid-50s to the low 40s in what would turn out to be a bit of an omen for the Ducks as they faced Northern Arizona Saturday night.
The weather has been weird throughout the country, with two scheduled carrier games amounting to one half of actual basketball between them (Ohio State vs. Marquette was cancelled before its scheduled tip aboard USS Yorktown, while Florida vs. Georgetown was cancelled just before the start of the second half due to unmanageable condensation aboard USS Bataan), not to mention Hurricane Sandy. But many of the top teams in the country seemed to open up their seasons with some cold moments, even if it was not reflected in the thermometer.
It took a late first half rally and a close second half for No. 15 Missouri to beat Southern Illinois–Edwardsville by 14. Yale dominated the first half of their match against Sacred Heart, taking a 44-28 lead to the break, but went on to lose 85-82 after the Pioneers mounted a monumental comeback. And Arizona struggled to put away Charleston Southern until late, eventually winning 82-73. In early-season games like these, the scene is frequently set the same way: A team playing its home opener against a team it underestimates doesn’t play as hard as they might have against a big-name team. They’ll either come out soft, or build a lead and leave it to take care of itself, slacking off late and not just leaving the door open to a comeback, but propping it wide with a doorstop and hanging a welcome sign over it. On the other side of the coin, opponents come into the big-time arenas ready to go, eager to show their stuff and pushing every possible advantage.
“It’s just the mindset of being aggressive at all times,” said Kansas head coach Bill Self, speaking to what his Jayhawks demonstrably lacked in their 74-55 victory over Southeast Missouri State. “It blows my mind that we are not an aggressive group.” The Jayhawks jumped to an early lead but the Redhawks clamped down, keeping the game within striking distance until late in the second half. “It was tough at first to get going,” Arizona guard Mark Lyons said of his squad’s close opener. “Charleston Southern was a great team with great dribble motion offense. Everything goes out to them for challenging us and making us work.” When the game stayed close late, the Wildcats were forced to play its most experienced lineup, built around Lyons, Solomon Hill, and Kevin Parrom to finally close it out.
Oregon also struggled to lock up its home opener against the Lumberjacks. The Ducks went back and forth over the first thirteen minutes until five scores in a row, capped off by a three-pointer by freshman Damyean Dotson, made it a 10-point lead, which the Ducks took to halftime. “We had so many different combinations during the game, and a lot of them didn’t work,” explained Oregon head coach Dana Altman. But the bigger problem was the performance of the individual players. “Our guys just didn’t compete hard,” Altman elaborated. “I didn’t think anybody was sharp tonight.” Missed defensive rotations, poor shot selection, and a slow pace were recurring themes . There were bright spots like the 13-6 run to close the first half, but that was all but forgotten by the trail end of the second half when the Lumberjacks went on an 8-0 run to take the lead five minutes left.
Altman attributed the problems, by in large, to his freshman. “At times, they all did really good things,” he said. “But the consistency and the communication defensively wasn’t there. They kind of pick and choose where they want to play hard.” So, much as Arizona did, the Ducks went to their veterans to secure the victory, with seniors E.J. Singler and Tony Woods leading the late surge to pull down the 83-73 win. “Things with this group will go up and down a lot,” Altman said. “We’re going to have to make giant steps in a short amount of time.” The “up” came on Monday night when the Ducks led wire-to-wire over semi-rival Portland State, leading by as much as 21 on their way to an 80-69 win. The Ducks dominated both ends of the floor, looking very little like the team that had to scrap against the Lumberjacks to avoid dropping their home opener.
So the question remains: Will any given night be an up night or a down night for the young Ducks, and when will a down night come against a team good enough to make the final score reflect the Duck’s play? Vanderbilt may just be that team; they beat Oregon last season on their way to a 25-win season and an NCAA tournament appearance, but they’re young and undersized this year. Without a doubt, this will be the Ducks toughest test of the young season.