Johnathan Loyd had heard it all. The whispers. The comments. The tweets. How he couldn’t shoot, how other teams don’t guard him, how the Ducks have gone straight downhill without Dominic Artis, and on and on. Going scoreless in a heartbreaking loss to California two nights earlier, didn’t help.
But Saturday against Stanford, in a game the Ducks had to win to remain in first place in a tightening Pac-12 race, with the skeptics ready to light up the message boards again, something startling happened at Matthew Knight Arena in front of an announced sellout crowd of 12,364. The woeful shooting statistics and the ineffective offensive production that plagued Loyd and his teammates in the loss to the Bears, simply vanished.
Shooting 50% from the field in the first half against the Cardinal after managing a season-low 27% for the game against California, the Ducks took a four-point advantage into the break, despite the heroics of Dwight Powell, who singlehandedly kept Stanford close.
Behind the inspirational and effective play of Loyd, their backup point guard, No. 23 Oregon ran away from the Cardinal in the second half to win in a romp, 77-66, and stay in a first-place tie with Arizona with just three conference games left to play.
Coach Dana Altman, who won for the 600th time in his career against Stanford, credited Loyd with being the difference, on a night when many Ducks played very well.
He said, “To see him have a ballgame like that, to absolutely be the difference in the game, not only with his offense, but his defensive intensity…there’s no one that cares about our team more than Johnny. I’m just really happy for him.”
Loyd, who scored a season-high 15 points, was one assist away from his first double-double in his career at Oregon. In the second half, he repeatedly broke Stanford’s pressure by dribbling around and through Cardinal defenders. Once he broke free, he attacked the hoop and dropped the ball off for other Ducks to dunk, or he delighted the crowd by finishing several difficult shots himself.
Loyd said, “When a team presses us, my eyes light up. There’s so much space on the court, and I just weave in and out and give it to the guys so they can finish.”
It was Loyd’s defense that sparked the Ducks, however, as he had three of the team’s 12 steals, leading to some of the most entertaining basketball the Ducks have played in over a month. The energy in the building, just two days after there was barely any, was at the highest level since the win over No. 4 Arizona in early January. The energy was contagious, and it spread throughout the Oregon team.
Senior Center Tony Woods played arguably his best basketball of the year, finishing with a career high nine rebounds and nine points. His intensity level on the offensive end was huge as he grabbed six offensive boards and had four put-backs that led to a whopping 42-18 Duck advantage in the paint.
After the game, Woods said, “Coach gave me a goal of three offensive boards and I was going to the game thinking more about rebounding. We’re a better team when we board and attack the basket and we did a lot of that tonight.”
Carlos Emory had 19 points off the bench to lead all scorers and he grabbed five rebounds. Arsalan Kazemi scored 15 points, had seven rebounds, five steals, and two blocks for his night’s work. E.J. Singler added 12 points and four rebounds, as four Ducks scored in double figures for Oregon.
Stanford was led by Powell, who had 16 points, but 12 came in the first half. The Ducks caught a huge break when the smooth-shooting forward picked up his fourth foul with 18:12 left in the game and had to sit. At the time, Stanford trailed 32-28. By the time Powell returned to the game less than six minutes later, Oregon’s lead had stretched to 46-34.
Josh Huestis had his ninth double-double of the year for Stanford with 12 points and 13 rebounds. But the Cardinal had no answer for the intensity the Ducks displayed yesterday in a game that avenged Oregon’s worst defeat of the season, 76-52, three weeks ago in Palo Alto, in a very low-energy effort by the Ducks. Loyd said that avenging that loss was in his mind. He said, smiling, “Of course, anytime you get blown out by 25, there’s going to be payback.”
Oregon’s largest lead of the night came at 5:27 to play in the game when Loyd dished to Kazemi for a slam to lead, 66-42. The Ducks had committed only 7 turnovers to that point, but finished with 13, as the game got sloppy at the end.
Of last night’s big Oregon win and his solid effort, Loyd said, “It felt great— I needed it. My teammates put faith in me. They tell me they believe in me, they trust me, they know I can do it, so I just stepped up.”
Altman said that point guard play at any level in basketball, from junior high to the pros is critical. He said, “The point guard’s the spot. It’s the quarterback. Johnny Loyd was definitely the guy who stirred the drink tonight. He was really good.”
Oregon doesn’t play again until next Thursday, when they host Oregon State in the home finale. The Pac-12 race has tightened, but the Ducks control their fate. By winning all three remaining games, Oregon will be conference champs.
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