Humbled: Against Stanford, Oregon’s Problems Come Home To RoostPosted by mlemaire on January 31st, 2013
Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Stanford and Oregon in Palo Alto.
Those who had watched Oregon eke their way to a 7-0 start in Pac-12 play knew that eventually the team’s offensive struggles and turnover issues would bite them, but no one could have predicted the Ducks’ comeuppance would be so vicious. Even Oregon had to know as it rose to No. 10 in the national polls that their gaudy record was built on a shaky foundation that would struggle to create offense without injured dynamic freshman point guard Dominic Artis. But even without Artis, getting thrashed by Stanford to the tune of 76-52 proves that the young Ducks still have a long way to go if they want to capture a Pac-12 title.
Since conference play began, Dana Altman’s team has made a habit of starting slow before picking up the intensity as the game went on and ultimately finding a way to win. And as if on cue last night, the Ducks turned the ball over four times in the first five minutes and missed a handful of early open jumpers. Oregon tried to turn up the intensity after trailing by double-figures at halftime, but without Artis to create offense in the half-court and facing a veteran team hungry for a big win, things quickly got worse instead of better.
The Cardinal deserve credit too. Led by guards Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright, Stanford canned nearly 60 percent of its three-pointers (8-of-14) and harassed Oregon’s perimeter players into a 4-of-16 effort from behind the three-point arc. But Oregon didn’t exactly make Stanford beat them. Offensively they were again plagued by turnovers and poor shooting, and the team’s lackluster defensive effort in the first half — especially on close-outs — allowed Stanford to open up a big lead they would not relinquish. “It’s the first time we’ve fallen flat on our face this year,” Altman said. “I am not going to lie. I am very disappointed. But a lot of that has to do with Stanford. They just kicked us.”
This was the second game for Oregon without Artis and while they were able to mask his absence in a win last weekend against Washington, Wednesday night was a good example of just how important he is to the team. The Ducks are not exactly an offensive powerhouse to begin with, and Artis is not only the team’s best play-maker and on-ball defender, he is also one of the team’s best three-point shooters and a rapidly improving decision-maker. Even combined, his replacements, Jonathan Loyd and Willie Moore, fall well short of what Artis brings to the table. Loyd is speedy and a solid ball-handler, but at just 5’8″ and without much of a jump shot, his offensive and defensive abilities are severely limited. Moore is a talented freshman who may soon be an excellent player for Altman, but his questionable decision-making and inability to create open looks for teammates off the bounce make him an erratic choice at point guard.
Those inadequacies were on display last night as the duo combined for seven points, five turnovers, and just one assist. In fact, the Ducks managed just four assists as a team, and when Carlos Emory wasn’t trying to bull his way into the lane for a tough layup, the team was putting on a clinic on how to execute the dribble-handoff without actually attacking the basket. The only time they were able to score was when they weren’t turning the ball over in transition (they had at least 20 turnovers for the second straight game) and when they were making free throws, and even those were difficult to come by as they finished shooting just 57 percent (12-of-21) from the line.
Oregon doesn’t exactly have time to dwell on the loss either as they will be a little more than an hour north of Stanford on Saturday to take on California and they will likely be without Artis for at least that game as well. The freshman’s injury shouldn’t keep him out for too much longer, but Altman has his hands full trying to keep the ship afloat until he returns. Altman will essentially be operating without a point guard in the interim and this team will need to play great defense and excellent transition basketball if they want to hold on to first place in the conference.
And that is the good news for the Ducks — even after their debacle last night, they still sit atop the conference standings. UCLA lost a winnable game to USC last night as well and they still sit comfortably ahead of Arizona and Arizona State, two teams they have already beaten, in the conference standings. But last night was an excellent indication that while the young Ducks have plenty of promise and talent, they were never really the 10th-best team in the country anyway. Altman, his team, and his players, should be commended for getting the squad to this point in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, but they don’t have enough depth or offensive firepower to truly be considered an elite player quite yet.