Oregon Basketball Heating up Just in Time for Pac-12 Play

Alex Nordstrand Editorials

Last Saturday the Ducks were able to secure their biggest road win in the Dana Altman era: a crucial 71-70 overtime win on the road over then No. 5 ranked Michigan. It had the intensity of a make-or-break game in March, and should build momentum for this team going into conference play. The Ducks were carried by the senior backcourt duo of Payton Pritchard and Anthony Mathis.

Oregon got off to a hot start, at one point leading 25-9, led by Mathis and his three-point shooting. For the game, Mathis had 19 points, shooting 6 of 10 from behind the arc. He has quickly become one of the most important pieces for this Oregon team. When Mathis is able to get open and make his shots, it creates an entirely different dynamic for the offense.

Not only does it obviously put points on the board, but it seems to give the rest of the team energy and momentum. It’s usually pretty easy to tell whether Mathis will have a big impact scoring early on in the game. If he’s able to make a couple of shots early, that tends to continue throughout the game. However, if the other team is keying on him and he’s unable to get in rhythm, there can be a tendency for him to get lost in the game.

Oregon Celebrates Huge Road Win

After the hot start, Michigan made its run, cutting the lead to eight at the half. The second half was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team leading by more than three points after the 9:40 mark. Pritchard took over the game late, and led the team to victory, scoring 13 of the last 15 points for the Ducks.

Pritchard did this with sheer will and determination. Instead of settling for tough, contested jump shots, he made an effort to drive hard to the basket and Michigan couldn’t find a way to stop him. It was very reminiscent of the way he took over games at the end of last season: aggressively attacking the rim, and making the defense react and try to adjust. The Ducks are a different team when he makes quick, assertive decisions opening up the court the for rest of his teammates.

N’Faly Dante Arrives in Style

The Oregon Men’s team received a mid-season addition last week when N’Faly Dante was finally cleared to enroll and join the team on Dec. 14. Dante, who was originally in the 2020 recruiting class, reclassified this past summer to 2019. However, it was reported that a deadline was missed for him to be eligible to enroll at the beginning of the school year.

Dante, at 6’11 and 250 pounds, immediately becomes the most physically imposing presence on this year’s team. He will provide rebounding, blocked shots and the ability to score from the low post. In their two losses this season, the Ducks were exposed inside against bigger and more physical teams.

N’Faly Dante Makes His Oregon Debut

In his first game action as a Duck, Dante looked ready to contribute right away. In just 14 minutes, Dante had 11 points, including two post ups and two alley dunks, to go along with two rebounds, two steals and one assist. While not the most overwhelming stat line, it’s apparent that Dante is more than capable of making big contributions.

The most impressive part of his game was how comfortable he looked with the ball in his hands while in the post. He showed patience, good body control and great vision. He made four passes out of the post that resulted in open shots for teammates. If he is able to consistently demand double teams, it will only open up the offense even more.

Even with Dante’s obvious skill set, there will still be growing pains along the way. With him only arriving in the last week, there’s still plenty for him to catch up on. First, as to be expected, his conditioning is going to have to improve and he will need to learn the offense and defense. Second, he’ll have to adjust to the speed of the game on the defensive side of the ball. There were multiple times, both in the back of the press and in the half court, where he was caught watching the ball and Montana was able to get a lay up.

Warming Up For Tough Conference Opener

After beating Michigan, the Ducks are finishing out non-conference play with three games, all against teams with sub .500 records. They handled Montana on Wednesday, beating the Grizzlies 81-48. Oregon will now play Texas Southern and Alabama State before starting Pac-12 play on the road at Colorado (whom the Ducks have never beaten in Boulder under Altman) and at Utah (who just beat Kentucky).

CJ Walker Skies For The Alley Oop

This two-week stretch will be very important for this team. With only two games and plenty of days to practice, it will give Dante a chance to continue to get more acclimated, while hopefully getting Shakur Juiston back, as he’s still dealing with an injury. This is the time of year that Altman teams really take that next step forward in becoming the team they’re capable of being.

Through the first 11 games of the season, the Ducks have cemented themselves as favorites to win the Pac-12, but they’re going to have to earn it. The conference is much improved this year, and every game will be a battle. But if this Oregon team has proven anything so far this year, it’s that they can not only compete, but can beat anybody on any given night.

Go Ducks!

Coach Alex Nordstrand
Eugene, Oregon                                                                                                                                                     Top Photo from Twitter

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