“Oregon is always a different team by late February.”
You hear that every year about Oregon under coach Dana Altman. It’s true again this year, as the men are starting to come together and play closer to the way we all thought they might when the season started.
As for the women’s team, the nation’s best offense showed up and played incredible defense this weekend, shutting down both of the Arizona schools in the second half. The rare 4-0 sweep by both Oregon teams was led by two things: the Oregon women’s defense, and the the Oregon men’s freshmen.
The Oregon Women’s Defense
Everyone knows about Oregon’s offense. But it was the defense that showed up in the desert. Example one: The Oregon women held Arizona to zero points in the fourth quarter on Friday. Zero. None. Nada. Zip. Yes, you heard that right. Oregon outscored them 19-0. There’s something to share at work when you get a chance.
Example two: With her three-point shot ice cold last weekend and on Friday, Satou Sabally dove on the floor, grabbed every loose ball, grabbed 10 rebounds against Arizona, and then made every switch and grabbed another six boards on Sunday. She hasn’t gotten an easy bucket in weeks, but she is playing tremendously hard at the defensive end on every possession.
Example three: Arizona State scored nine points in the fourth quarter Sunday. A ranked team scored less than 10 points in a quarter, at home, in their biggest game of the year. The Ducks beat them to every spot and contested everything. At times, it seemed like they’d just taken away their will.
On Sunday, Sabrina Ionescu and Sabally went at it again. Ionescu had a hand in everything. She had a block from behind, and Oregon’s team defense made it hard for ASU to get into their offense. Right now the Ducks are forcing passes higher or wider by keeping their hands in the passing lanes, and committing to help and then help the helper.
By pushing a pass even six inches from where it should be, the opponent loses a split second, and the advantaged gained over the previous eight seconds is gone. All of this to say, the Ducks are playing beautiful defense together.
Oregon’s Freshmen Are Now Playing Like Grown Men
Louis King has become the floor leader coach Altman hoped he’d be (and might have been, if he hadn’t been injured) in January. Will Richardson has been harped on enough by the staff to shoot more, and it has finally sunken in. We saw Richardson execute a series of explosive drives to the hoop and a quick-release three, and now his game looks less like a freshman’s and more like that of a sophomore.
Francis Okoro is looking good, too; he had his best night as a Duck on Sunday. He brutalized Wildcat defenders on the block with drop steps and quick shots in the paint. He also had seven boards and is playing like he can be a force at center next year.
At his best, Okoro gets the ball in the post and takes his time. He’s so wide that he can back a big man down, and when he turns, he naturally clears out space for his shooting hand.
His body on the post reminds me of what might happen if you combined Wes Unseld and Kevin McHale: huge broad shoulders and a soft touch. Okoro has tremendous upside right now.
Water Cooler Notes
For the men, beating both Washington schools this week would be nice, but at this point, their only path to the NCAA’s is winning the conference tournament. Right now, they’d have to win four games in four days, as they’re the eighth seed and would face Arizona in the first round.
Oregon’s likely to finish about 20-14, with a solid NIT resume and hosting a first-round game if they don’t win the conference tourney.
The Oregon women play the winner of Arizona-USC on Friday in Las Vegas, then the winner of a likely UCLA-ASU game on Saturday. Three games in three days will test the Ducks’ depth; with Taylor Chavez out indefinitely, the bench is only three players deep. Watch for coach Kelly Graves to try to sit Ionescu, Sabally and Ruthy Hebard a little longer than normal if they get a big lead in the first game.
Nothing has changed in the world of recruiting on the men’s side. Every win helps make a case for Cole Anthony or Cassius Stanley. Oregon still has three open scholarships for 2019. Of course, the biggest recruit would be the return of King. Not likely to happen, but hey, Justin Herbert is back at quarterback, isn’t he? Stranger things have happened.
Lake Oswego, OregonTop Photo From Video
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
A native Oregonian, Bob’s spent 16 years covering Duck football and basketball for AOL Fanhouse, OregonLive and Rivals.com. He’s also hosted a sports talk show on ESPN Radio and led marketing for the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.
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