EUGENE, OR. – The Golden Bears came into Matt Knight Arena on Thursday night to take on the Ducks, in a battle that was initially thought to be somewhat of an easy win for Oregon. California had won 11 straight games against Oregon prior to Thursday night’s game, and Coach Altman was determined to do anything possible to ensure that streak would be broken.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
The Ducks are an offensive powerhouse, we all know that by now. None of the teams that Oregon has faced so far has found a way to stop the Duck’s offense, because the team is too talented, with lethal scorers from sideline to sideline. However, with all of the attention Oregon has received on offense this year, they seem to have totally forgotten about the other half that exists to this beautiful game, DEFENSE!
With the amount of athleticism, agility and overall skill, there shouldn’t be any reason to believe that the Ducks are missing a piece defensively.
But, for some reason, Oregon hasn’t been able to find an identity on that side of the ball. Coach Altman put it plain and simple after the game when he said, “Defensively, we’re not good.” That pretty much summed up the Duck’s reason for their 96-83 loss against Cal.
Oregon actually started off the game playing fairly well. Both teams played a man-to-man defense for the entire game, but Oregon seemed to struggle shifting from player-to-player on the help-side defense they played on Cal’s big-men.
Joseph Young said after the game, “I played help defense for too long,” meaning he left his man wide open and wasn’t able to close out hard enough in time to stop the opp. It just so happens that his man – freshman Jordan Mathews – decided to disregard his team’s season average 33% from three, and go absolutely bongos, dropping 20 points just at the half! The man averages only 7 points a game, so right there you know something went wrong defensively. Luckily for Young, he was able to makeup for his slow closeouts and somewhat match Mathews’ 20 with his own 13, leading the Ducks at halftime.
The Ducks were trailing only 46-42 at halftime, but that definitely shouldn’t have been the case if Oregon was capable of holding Cal to their relatively lame season averages. The Bears average a 46% field-goal percentage, which is pretty normal for a team, but they average a pedestrian 33% from three, and 69% from the line.
Just to put things into perspective, Oregon has averaged a 50% field-goal percentage, including a respectable 41% from three, and 76% from the line — before tonight’s game. The Ducks have much more talent offensively, specifically from beyond the arc, than they showed tonight. With Oregon’s lethargic defense, Cal was able to shoot 51%, including 43% from three-point territory, and 92% from the line.
Oregon actually had a fairly good defensive scheme in the first half. Because Cal is “supposedly” a bad three-point shooting team, as soon as the Cal guards passed the ball to their big men, Duck guards would come down and converge on the big men, doubling, which then led to the bigs passing to their shooters for wide-open looks.
According to the numbers, that’s exactly what the Ducks wanted Cal to do, but Oregon quickly backed away from that scheme after being burned one time too many.
Although there were many questionable calls throughout the game leading to the Bears going to the line, Oregon still should not have given up that great a three-point percentage.
Oregon was even with Cal at the half — if you count only shooting percentages, but where Oregon missed out, not only in that 20 minutes, but throughout the entire game – their fast break opportunities were limited. With the stoppage of play due to multiple foul calls, Oregon was out of sync, and wasn’t able to to compose themselves.
With a lack of bench performance throughout the entire game, it was up to the starters to ensure that this would be a game by the end of it all.
Jordan Mathews started off the second half with a three, but wasn’t productive offensively for a long stretch, which gave Oregon a chance to come back.
The problem was that Cal’s star, Justin Cobbs, began to play like his usual self, as he finished the game with 20 points and 11 assists. Cal coach Mike Montgomery keeps a short leash on his bench, therefore the starters played the majority of the game, so Oregon being tired is not an excuse for this one. The bench simply didn’t show up, as they had a total of 11 points on the game. 11 points?! Jason Calliste on his own averages that. To have that happen at this stage of the year, especially now that the Ducks are in their conference play, is opportunity lost.
With star Mike Moser also struggling a bit — mostly in the second half on shooting 6-18, Oregon not only didn’t have the defensive effort, but didn’t have enough scoring (a first for the Ducks), as they ended up shooting an ugly 30% overall in the second half, and 8% from three.
That’s an unacceptable number for a team that is leading the nation in scoring. It almost seemed like the players didn’t have enough left in the tank to take out the 8-man rotation of the Bears, as Moser and Richard Amardi just didn’t have the ability to really get off the ground and do anything on the inside.
The high point of the night was Joseph Young getting himself back on track, putting up 29 points, shooting an incredible 16-17 from the line. However, the man he was guarding put up 32 points, so they pretty much cancelled one another out.
As Moser and Coach Altman said after the game, “We’re going to have to do a lot of soul searching.” It’s a simple game, but mind tricks sometimes have a huge effect on a player’s ability to perform. When you’re struggling on defense, you have more pressure put on yourself to perform on offense in order to match the other team. When that doesn’t happen, that’s when things start to go wrong.
The Ducks play Stanford on Sunday, and will look to improve on their defensive struggles and lack of bench activity. The Ducks have faced adversity earlier in the season against relatively weaker teams, but now it’s time to see how they handle the conference.
Top photo by Craig Strobeck