The Ducks could have folded, could have checked out, given up and quit. One month ago they were spiraling out of control, looking lost (at times) on the court and appeared to be out of the equation for an NCAA tournament berth. Lesser teams would have surrendered.
But not these Ducks, and not this coach: Dana Altman.
Certainly, there is a lot of work to be done, and there is little doubt this team has some considerable weaknesses to address, but somehow, Altman has gotten this team turned around, and for that alone he deserves a lot of praise.
Making the tournament isn’t a lock, and the Ducks will have to find a way to play much better if they are to make any kind of noise in the tournament, but the future looks much better now than it did a month ago.
And what about this coach of the Ducks?
Initially overlooked when Oregon was swinging for the fences to replace Ernie Kent, Altman has done a superb job to increase the win total with each passing year (although this year he will most likely take a step back in that category), has taken the team to the Sweet Sixteen and continues to field consistently competitive teams.
This year might be his best year, coaching-wise, despite the increase in losses. He has kept his team from falling into despair despite the big losing streak, and now they seem to be on the rise once again.
The psychological aspect of coaching is one of the most difficult aspects of the game, and this is compounded when a big losing streak happens. Winning is about belief, but when everything is going wrong, only the best coaches can turn things around.
Altman is a coach who deserves to be considered among the best in the nation. He is consistent, steady and guides the Ducks with a firm hand. He has demanded accountability from his players, and has increased the national profile of the team.
Yes, the Ducks have yet to win a Pac-12 championship in his four years at the helm, but at a program such as Oregon’s, which lacks the national appeal of a UCLA or an Arizona, only patience will translate into trophies. Altman has earned the right to that kind of patience, even if the Ducks take a step back this year.
The team has now won five games in a row, and with their final two games coming at Matthew Knight Arena, have a chance to close out the season strong, and show that they belong in the tournament. Considering that the Ducks came close to winning both games against the Arizona schools on the road, Oregon has a chance to sweep the final two games and reach 10 wins in the Pac-12 this year. A month ago that seemed like a highly improbable development, to say the least.
But no matter what happens, whether they make The Dance or not, Dana Altman has shown, once again, that he is one of the best coaches around.
Top photo by Kevin Cline