When Dominic Artis went down with a foot injury midway through conference play, fans and analysts predicted the Ducks’ season to spiral downward. At first, it seemed they were right when the Ducks lost three games in a row to sub-par teams. They took a pounding from Stanford and lost to Cal – again – as Altman is still winless against the Golden Bears in his stint at Oregon. They returned to Eugene with hopes for home cooking to extend a 20-game home winning streak dating back to last season. The Buffaloes of Colorado – not fazed by this impressive stat – came into Matt Knight Arena and stunned the crowd, winning on a last minute layup.
The Ducks were hit in the mouth; it was up to them to get back up and fight. With Artis’ injury, backup point guard Johnathan Loyd was now in the spotlight. His play the first three games as a starter was by his own admission not as good as he felt it should be, causing fans to bury their hands in their faces and to wonder what the Ducks had become. To be fair, Loyd was thrust in a role for which he had little experience — that of a starting point guard. There were bound to be bumps. Things were going to look bleak, and ”panic” was the word that many used in overreaction to describe the team at the time.
Coach Dana Altman did not give up on his team. As critics and fans railed at the Ducks, he stuck with his guns and trusted Johnathan Loyd to turn it around – and that is exactly what Loyd did. Since the three-game losing streak the Ducks have gone on to win five of their last six games, with the one loss being to Coach Altman’s White Whale in Berkeley. Johnathan Loyd and the Ducks elevated their level of play to new heights and caught everyone off guard. The team rode Loyd’s back as he posted double digits in scoring during three of the five wins and came close to double-double, dishing out nine assists. Thanks to Loyd’s stellar play, the Ducks are back as a team and in contention for the league title.
Through this Artis-less stretch the Ducks – especially Johnathan Loyd – faced plenty of adversity and criticism, but that didn’t stop them. Instead, they played with chips on their shoulders and proved they can do it without their star point guard. The hardships have made them a stronger team both mentally and physically, and Artis’ return makes them even more dangerous. They rose against adversity once and can certainly do it again. The tournament could not come at a better time as the reinvigorated Ducks, led by Dominic Artis – and Johnathan Loyd - hit the home stretch in what may be one of the most improbable seasons the Ducks have ever seen.
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