Life on the road in the Pac-12 is not so easy. Especially when you’re up against a top-20 team, who happens to be unbeaten in 11 home games so far this season.
This past Sunday the No. 15 Colorado Buffaloes handed No. 17 Oregon its first loss of the season for their 13th win of the season with help of a phenomenal shooting performance by Askia Booker, who scored a career-high 27 points, with 11 of those coming in the last 4:40 to close out the victory, 100-91.
Oregon was led by Mike Moser, who finished with 24 points and seven rebounds, while Joseph Young and Damyean Dotson each added 16 points.
It also is the only time the Buffs and Ducks play this season, which could cause some controversy later on down the road if Oregon and Colorado find themselves atop the conference standings, needing a head-to-head matchup to enhance their resumes. Colorado next travels to Pullman, to take the court against a struggling Washington State team on Jan. 8, but their next big test will be Jan. 23 versus No. 1 Arizona.
The Ducks on the other hand are now 13-1 on the season and 1-1 in conference play as they head into a two-game home stretch that welcomes the California Bears (10-4, 1-0) and the Stanford Cardinal (9-4, 0-1).
These two teams opened up Pac-12 play against one another Jan. 2 at Stanford, which concluded 69-62, Bears. Last season Oregon traveled to the Bay Area for these matchups but this year they have the benefit of playing in Matt Knight Arena.
California will first visit the Ducks Jan. 9, as they look to continue their dominance of Oregon. The Bears won both meetings between the two last year, and every year before that dating back to the ’07-’08 season.
With the game being at home, it lifts spirits and confidence for Oregon, who is coming off their first loss of the season but are still unbeaten at Matt Knight Arena at 10-0.
An advantage the Ducks will have in the game is their ability to pressure the ball, and force turnovers. The Bears are tied for 30th in the nation in turnovers per game, surrendering the ball about 10 times per game, but I think it is Oregon’s length at the guard position and the overall athleticism of this Duck squad, that have the capacity to hound the California offense into even more turnovers.
Stealing away opportunities, the Ducks have recorded double-digit steals in five of the last seven games, after reaching that feat just once in their first seven games on the year. This attribute has enabled Oregon to be successful on the defensive end, despite lacking size down on the block.
If they can force more turnovers and get their deadly transition offense going in front of a home crowd in Eugene, it could be the spark Oregon needs for their first victory against the Bears in almost six years.
Three days after that, the Cardinal will make their visit to face the Ducks in The Matt. The series was split last year but this time it is for bragging rights, as they will meet only once this season.
Stanford has an advantage down low with the tough play of big men Dwight Powell and Stefan Nastic but the two average double digits in turnovers between them.
Pressure defense is just one step of the recipe for getting back on track, as the Ducks will also have to better their work on the boards. The Buffalos outrebounded Oregon in their matchup, 39-33, and it has seemed to be an Achilles heal for the Ducks this season.
Although they dropped seven spots with the loss this past weekend, Oregon still reached the top-10 teams in both the RPI and BPI rankings, with the spot at No. 7 in the BPI being the highest.
If they can better a defense that thrives in pressuring the ball and getting out into space to start the offense, the Ducks will be right back in the zone before a three-game road trip that begins at Oregon State Jan. 19.
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck