Oregon Basketball: How Sweet It Is!

Alex Nordstrand Editorials

Dana Altman has once again led his team to the Sweet 16. It seems that year after year, no matter what his roster looks like, or how much player turnover there has been, Altman finds a way to finish as one of the best teams in the country. This season is no different, with only one player remaining from their last Sweet 16 run in 2019, Will Richardson, the 2021 Ducks now finds themselves back in the thick of it with a chance to compete for a spot in the Final Four.

The route to get to this point in the NCAA Tournament was a little different this year for the Ducks. In a disappointing turn of events, Oregon’s first round opponent VCU was unable to play because of COVID protocols, giving the Ducks a first round bye. In the only game to be cancelled up to this point, it certainly was bittersweet to have the Ducks not play a game, but also advance in the Tournament.

In their Second Round game, the Ducks faced off against No. 2 seed Iowa. In their first game in 10 days, it would not have been surprising to see Oregon start off sluggish. However, the Ducks came out firing on all cylinders, scoring a season high 56 points in the first half, creating a 10-point lead and ultimately leaving little doubt as to who the better team was.

Will Richardson will need to stay aggressive against USC

Luka Garza played as advertised. He finished with 36 points on 14/20 shooting, including three three-point field goals, while still dominating down low. This was to be expected of Garza against the undersized Oregon lineup. However, as I touched on in last week’s article, the Ducks had a game plan that accounted for Garza getting his points, but not letting the other Hawkeye players to get into a rhythm. Altman’s plan ended up working to perfection.

The next leading scorer for Iowa was Joe Wieskamp, who finished with a strong 17 points, but only came up with that total by shooting 17 shots. The Hawkeyes made just eight three-pointers as a team, three of which came from Garza, never allowing them to gain any momentum, especially once they were down double-digits in the second half.

The Ducks also had a great game offensively. Shooting nearly 56% from the field, and 44% behind the arc, Oregon had everything going. Going into the game, the Ducks knew they had a size and athleticism advantage on the wings, and they exploited that all game. Constantly looking to get to the basket, then kicking out for threes, the Ducks were able to get whatever they wanted almost all game.

Dana Altman uses this hand signal for man to man defense

Looking ahead to their Sweet 16 matchup, things won’t be so easy.

Oregon’s next game is set to be a rematch against No. 6 seed USC, who in the lone meeting this year, beat the Ducks handily by a score of 72-58. In that game, the Trojans jumped out to a 15-0 lead and never looked back. The Ducks were shell shocked early on and were never able to fully recover. Oregon was however able to win the second half, 36-29, which should give Duck fans hope that this game won’t be as lopsided as before.

In that game, the Ducks were very much worried about PAC-12 Player of the Year Evan Mobley, and that let other players get hot early, which ended up hurting the Ducks. In this rematch, I would expect the Ducks to employ a similar strategy that they did against Iowa, where they try and make Mobley beat them on his own, and not let other role players beat them.

While Mobley is a more than capable scorer, he isn’t as consistent or aggressive in one-on-one low post opportunities as Garza. I would not next expect him to rack up 36 points like Garza did. Unfortunately for the Ducks, Mobley will undoubtedly impact the game more heavily on the defensive end, where he averages 3.2 blocks per game. This is where the game will be won or lost.

Look for Eugene Omoruyi to have a big game against USC

In their previous meeting, the Ducks shot only 40% from the field, and had a combined 14 points from Will Richardson and Eugene Omoruyi. USC caused significant problems for Oregon with their length and athleticism on defense. While I wouldn’t expect Richardson or Omoruyi to have as poor of games this time around, the Ducks need to make those opportunities for each other count.

Last time, Oregon was very much one-on-one oriented, and took a lot of tough, contested shots without much ball movement. They ended up finishing that game with only 10 assists, and comparing that to the season high of 25 against Iowa, it is easy to see where the problem was.

Expect the Ducks to have much better ball movement, where they are driving and kicking out to shooters for three-pointers, as opposed to always driving to score. With Mobley’s shot blocking ability, the Ducks would be better served not attacking him on every play.

LJ Figueroa will need to continue his hot shooting

As mentioned before, this was a game where Omoruyi really struggled to get going offensively. With only nine points on 3/10 shooting, he was constantly looking to draw fouls while around the basket, which caused him to miss shots and still not getting the foul calls. The idea was good, try to get Mobley in foul trouble and on the bench, but that is not where Omoruyi is best. He needs to focus on making the basket, and not worry about the foul call. He is much more efficient and effective that way.

This will undoubtedly be a hard fought game. USC is coming off a 34-point demolition of Kansas, and will be ready to ride that momentum against the Ducks. If Oregon is able to avoid another bad start, and are able to keep the Trojans role players in check, I would expect the Ducks to be right in it till the end, competing for a spot in the Elite Eight.

Lady Ducks Ready For a Fight

The Oregon Women also find themselves in the thick of the NCAA Tournament, and fighting for their spot in the Sweet 16. With their dominant 67-47 win over South Dakota in the First Round, the Ducks are now looking at a matchup with No. 3 seed Georgia today for the right to move on.

The Ducks relied on their length and defense in their win over the Coyotes. Holding South Dakota to only nine points in the first half, and zero field goals in the second quarter, the Ducks were able to build a 25 point lead at halftime. Though South Dakota did outscore the Ducks by five in the second half, significant enough damage had already been done.

The size of Oregon down low was just too much for the Coyotes to handle. With Sedona Prince and Nyara Sabally controlling the game on both the offensive and defensive end, we also got a chance to see Erin Boley finally have a breakout game with 22 points on 4/6 behind the arc. That was really good to see, and something that will be needed in the battle against Georgia.

Sedona Prince will need to play big against Georgia

The Bulldogs, who won their first round matchup against Drexel by 14 will pose a much tougher test for the Ducks, mainly when Oregon has the ball. Georgia is a pressing team that likes to constantly put pressure on other teams guards and ball handlers. The Ducks being without their primary ball handler, Te-Hina Paopao, will need to really focus on taking care of the ball, and doing so with multiple players.

The Bulldogs are able to play so aggressively because they have one of the best shot blockers in the nation in Jenna Staiti, who averages 3.1 blocks per game. This will be a tough matchup for the Ducks, as they have struggled offensively for much of the season. They will need to use Georgia’s aggressiveness against them, looking to beat the pressure for quick points and also to get them in foul trouble.

Maddie Scherr is going to have a big task taking care of the ball against the Bulldogs

They may also look for ways to get Staiti defending out on the perimeter, where she isn’t as comfortable. They can do this by putting her in pick-and-roll or pop situations. This could be achieved by playing a slightly smaller lineup and making her guard a three-point shooter on the outside, or by taking opportunities to score in the fast break by creating turnovers of their own.

If the Ducks are going to win this game, it is going to need be a grind-it-out, low scoring affair. They need to continue to use their length on defense, and look to be efficient and smart on offense while taking advantage of the opportunities presented. This is going to be a tough matchup, but as I’ve said before, I would never count out a Kelly Graves coached team come Tournament time.

Go Ducks!

Coach Alex Nordstrand
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo By Eugene Johnson

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