Ya Gotta Have Heart — Ducks Dancing in March?
EUGENE, OR. – You could tell there was a different feel in Matthew Knight Arena even before the game tipped off on Saturday afternoon. Maybe it was because the entire arena was filled up for the first time in who knows how long, maybe it was because the Ducks’ seniors had one last chance to show off their skills at home, or maybe it was the fact that the Ducks KNEW they were going to upset No. 3 Arizona at home.
Either way, the Ducks did the unthinkable, and took down the talented Arizona Wildcat team, 64-57. If the Ducks ever needed a statement game to prove their worthiness of dancing the mamba in the NCAA Tournament, this was the one, baby!
“We didn’t play well,” said Coach Dana Altman after the game in regards to the first half. Oregon shot an ugly 37.5% from the field in that first 20 minutes, and struggled getting things going early in this one, while Arizona was able to build some early momentum of their own with 48% shooting.
This was the type of game where if Oregon had a chance to win, EVERYONE would have to contribute. Johnathan Loyd may be a little shorter than most guards in the NCAA, but my goodness does he have the biggest heart — and that’s what won the Ducks this one.
Loyd went for nine points and three steals in the first half, while orchestrating the offense as best he could. Although the Ducks shot poorly early, everyone was getting his touches, as eight players were able to get on the scoreboard.
Thankfully, just because the Ducks weren’t shooting well doesn’t mean they weren’t defending well. They held freshman phenom Aaron Gordon to eight points on 3-8 shooting, which was crucial to keeping the Ducks in this one. Wildcat point guard Nick Johnson wasn’t able to provide too much either, as he had seven points at the half. Oregon’s weakness was its rebounding early on, as they were out-boarded, 21-13, giving Arizona more opportunities to score the ball, leaving the Ducks down, 31-29, at the half.
The second half was a different story for our Ducks. Senior guard Jason Calliste took maters into his own hands on the offensive side of the ball, as not even the rain outside on Saturday could cool this guy off.
He dropped 18 points in the game, and every single one of those points came in the clutch. From the three to end the half, to his ‘and-one’ jump shot, Calliste, as he put it, “put the team on my back.”
While Arizona was leading for the majority of the second half, this game resembled the Duck-‘Cat game earlier this year, except the roles were switched. The Ducks were the ones who came back from their deficit to pull out the victory. It was a dynamic duo that we had never seen work so well together before between Loyd and Calliste. Loyd took some hard shots toward the end of the game, but got back up like a true warrior to ensure that this one was not going to slip away.
The tide turned at the five-minute mark of the second half, when Joseph Young — who had a very quiet game — came up with a big-bang three, to tie things up, 50-50. Both Loyd and Calliste were patient, waiting for the right openings to attack the basket, and when the openings presented themselves, they slithered through and took it to the hoop. With some huge defensive plays by Ben Carter throughout the second half, and with the Ducks beating the Wildcats on the second half boards, 22-14, Oregon sealed the deal on this game in one heck of a win.
Although Gordon finished with 21 points and eight boards, he shot a poor 7-17 from the field, thanks to the defensive work of the big men, Mike Moser in particular. Although Moser’s offensive game may not have had the impact it had in previous games, his defense was sorely needed for the Ducks to come out with the win.
A lot of credit toward this win has to go to the fans of the Ducks. Normally, Matthew Knight is nowhere near full, but Saturday’s game was sold out! The effects were definitely felt, thanks to the enthusiasm and the momentum built off the crowd noise. Ducks fans, support ALL of your squads, not just those nationally recognized!
Oregon heads into the PAC-12 tournament next week on a seven-game winning streak, and at this point, I don’t think anyone’s excited to play the Ducks. Calliste said it best in his post game interview, “It doesn’t matter what the name on your chest is.” Truer words have never been spoken.
As long as the Ducks come out and play their game, they’re bound to do some damage, no matter who the opponent is, just as they proved yesterday. Loyd said of this year’s team, “A lot of heart, but it’s not over yet.” Good luck to the Ducks, as the road has just become much more difficult going forward.
Top photo by Kevin Cline