TUSCON, AZ.- The Oregon Ducks jolted out of the snow in Eugene just in time, as they took on Arizona Thursday night. The Arizona Wildcats proved that they were beatable, as they lost their first game of the year earlier in the week to the Cal Golden Bears, and the Ducks saw this as an opportunity to strike while Arizona was shaken up. After one heck of a battle, the Ducks were unable to execute in the last couple of minutes of the game, as they came up just short of a huge upset in a 67-65 loss.
Oregon came out in the first half with the “Eye of the Tiger,” showing absolutely no fear of the Wildcats. Oregon executed a solid offense, running their usual pick and pops, creating opportunities for their shooters. Damyean Dotson, in particular, was playing incredibly well in the first half, creating opportunities for himself by taking it to the rack, and hitting his jump-shots.
His success gave Oregon some early confidence, that was necessary if the Ducks were to have a chance at winning this one. While a few of the Ducks starters were struggling a bit to get theirs, the x-factor – Jason Calliste – came in off the bench, orchestrating the offense with his smooth yet deceiving quickness and court vision.
Oregon shot a decent 43% from the field at the half, while Arizona shot 38%, in a game Oregon led, 38-37, heading into the break. A huge reason that the Ducks were able to keep themselves in this one was their hard work on the boards, and tenacious defense. Oregon held upcoming superstar, and Bay Area native Aaron Gordon to only three points at the half, showing Dana’s defensive scheme was successful. Also, star Nick Johnson was held to only seven points.
This matchup was a great test for the Ducks to see how they could go against higher quality teams, and they looked very impressive for the most part. Earlier in the season, Oregon struggled on the boards, and a huge question mark was how well they would do against legitimate big men. Tonight, Oregon actually out-rebounded the Wildcats 39-35, but allowed Arizona to snatch 15 offensive rebounds.
Oregon had great momentum coming into the second half of this nail-biter. The Ducks continued their to work their tail off throughout the entire game, hustling for every loose ball, getting active on the boards, and finding the open shooter for the shot. It all came down to who could “act like they’d been there before,” and with Oregon’s new roster in comparison to last year’s, they simply couldn’t put it away.
The Fighting Ducks were up 60-55 with 3:22 to go, and up until that mark Oregon was moving the ball around, and taking care of each possession as if it were their last. But, Arizona couldn’t handle losing two straight, and ended up making a little run, as they held the Ducks scoreless for about 2 minutes, and taking advantage by creeping up point-by-point taking the 62-60 lead.
With about 1:20 left, two critical mistakes were made by the Ducks that sealed the deal for the Wildcats. The first, was a very ill-advised three-point fade away heave by Joseph Young early in the shot clock, that allowed Arizona to grab the board and run the clock down.
The next mistake occurred with 43 seconds left in the game as Mike Moser fouled Nick Johnson on a foul-line jumper, giving him two free-throw opportunities when Arizona was only leading 64-62. These two small mistakes ended up making the difference between Oregon having a chance to win the game, and Oregon taking themselves out of it. With a couple of prayer shots towards the end, the Ducks just couldn’t come up with the dagger.
Oregon showed their potential Thursday night. They showed that the early hype was in fact somewhat legitimate. Obviously, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but hope should not be lost after the great battle that we witnessed tonight.