PORTLAND, Ore. – The Ducks took on 9-1 Illinois on Saturday night in their home away from home at the Moda Center, Portland, in one hell of a matchup. With a chance for the Ducks to prove themselves to the whole country on ESPN2, Oregon played their hearts out in a punch-and-counterpunch fight that tested the Ducks in a way we haven’t yet seen this year. Also, with Arizona winning another big matchup on Saturday against the Michigan Wolverines (continuing as an undefeated powerhouse), Oregon had to try to keep their undefeated streak intact, as well as to solidify their legitimacy as a contender in the PAC-12.
Oregon started off the game with a 2-3 zone, while Illinois ran a man-to-man defense that gave the Ducks some trouble in the first half. The Ducks strength this year has been their fast-paced transition offense that makes them the 2nd-highest scoring team in the NCAA. But with Illinois’ strength being their defensive prowess, Oregon was unable to push the ball down the court as Illinois was able to get back on defense quickly. Because the Ducks were incapable of getting transition points off of outlet passes, they had to start executing in a half-court set, which proved to be efficient, but low scoring compared to their usual 91 points per game average. They finished the half with only 32 points.
Not only was Illinois’ defense restraining the Ducks from scoring in high volume, but they were also able to slice-and-dice through Oregon’s zone defense early, and get to the basket with ease. The Ducks quickly took notice, and changed into a man-to-man defense, which seemed to limit Illinois for the rest of the half. The Oregon big men started to make their presence felt, cutting off driving lanes for Illinois, preventing their plan of attack. With about five minutes left in the first half, the Ducks were able to spread their offense out against the man defense, and had their guards cut across the court from the opposite side, which opened up passes into the inside players for easy buckets.
At the half, it was a low-scoring tie at 32-32. The Ducks shot an impressive 52%, but 22% from 3-point range, while Illinois shot 39%, and an ugly 20% from three. As usual, the Ducks allowed Illinois to out-rebound them, 19-14, but included six offensive boards for second chance opportunities. The Ducks were hounding the Fighting Illini, as they forced a staggering eight steals! But, Illinois was able to prevent the Ducks’ transition play, which meant Oregon was unable to convert off of those steals. The Ducks were outplayed in the paint as Illinois put up 18 points to their 12.
This was not only a battle of who wanted it more, but also a battle of great coaching. For every move Illini Coach John Groce made on the court — whether it was changing up the defense or running different styles of offense – Duck Coach Dana Altman matched as the second half unfolded. Oregon started off the second period with a very lethargic look. They were slow, there was little movement, and they simply looked like a team that didn’t want it. On the other side, Illinois was looking to make a statement, and took charge with a 42-37 lead with 15:59 to go.
Illinois started to run a lot more pick and rolls against the man-to-man defense that Oregon was playing, and the Ducks didn’t switch well on the picks, which allowed an open roller to the basket for easy points. It wasn’t looking good for Oregon, but Coach Altman always seems to find a way to motivate his team to push themselves beyond their capabilities or motivation level, and that’s exactly what he did in this game. The Ducks went back to their 2-3 zone, and continued with it throughout the rest of the game. It began to give Illinois some trouble as they were unable to execute their offense as well, which gave Oregon a shot at making a comeback.
With 10 minutes left in the half, the Ducks started to take control of the game by playing to their liking. They started to push the ball, allowing for transition points that were nonexistent in the first half. Oregon got their first lead since the first half with 8:13 left, at 54-52. Jason Calliste came off the bench and ignited the Ducks’ offense as he hit a quick three and a beautiful runner to continue the momentum, while Dotson was on the bench getting a quick breather. The Ducks had a 3-point lead with one minute remaining, as this one came down to the end.
With ice in his veins, veteran point guard Johnathan Loyd took this one into his own hands. He faced up against the larger Illinois big men on a switch and buried a mid-range jumper right in the guy’s face, to finish them off. The Ducks ended up winning this one with a score of 71-64 to go 9-0.
This one was a team effort, and man, was it beautiful to watch! Moser finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Loyd put up 11 points and seven assists. J-Loyd is currently the No. 4 assist man in the nation, averaging 7.4 per game. Joseph Young made some incredible acrobatic moves in the paint to give him 14 points on the night, as well. Elgin Cook was once again a force off the bench as he added 12 points to the mix, and gave Coach Altman even more of a reason to play him in clutch situations towards the end of the game.
The Fighting Ducks lived up to their name on Saturday night, and will continue to prove themselves on Tuesday against UC Irvine in Eugene.