Oregon Basketball: More Sour Than Sweet

Alex Nordstrand Editorials

For both the Men’s and Women’s basketball teams, this roller coaster of a season came to an end this past weekend, with both teams losing in the Sweet 16. For both of these teams, this season should be considered a resounding success. With so many ups and downs between roster turnover, COVID pauses and injuries, for the Men’s and Women’s teams to still be two of the top teams in their sports shows just how great these programs have become.

Injuries Too Much to Overcome for Lady Ducks

For the Women, there were just too many obstacles to overcome in order to advance any further in the Tournament, especially against a good team like Louisville. Already having to deal with the injuries to Te-Hina Paopao and Jaz Shelley, the in-game ankle injuries to Maddie Scherr and Nyara Sabally proved to be too much.

As we all saw late in the season, when PaoPao went out with her foot injury, the Oregon offense really stalled and struggled to generate points. She was the only player throughout the season that was consistently able to break down the defense and create either her own shot, or a shot for others. After she got hurt, the Ducks struggled to find any identity or offensive spark to end the regular season.

Nyara Sabally is a centerpiece for the Lady Ducks

In the NCAA Tournament however, the Lady Ducks were able to adjust, and play to their roster’s strengths, which was their size and length. In their two wins during the NCAA Tournament, the Ducks dominated with their defense, and by overwhelming both teams down low. The combination of Sedona Prince and Nyara Sabally controlled the paint, and subsequently, controlled the game.

They could not have done this without strong defensive play, as they were still scoring many points. The strong play on defense was led by the freshman Scherr. A terrific on and off-ball defender, Scherr was a catalyst for their Sweet 16 run. Not only did she play great defense, she was a solid ball handler that got the Ducks into all their sets on offense. While not the scorer that Paopao is, she handled the point guard duties admirably.

Scherr’s injury may have been the deciding factor in their loss against the Cardinals. Her primary job on defense was to guard two-time ACC Player of the Year, Dana Evans. Before the injury to Scherr, Evans was 0-5 from the field and had zero points. After the injury, Evans ended up with 29 points, accounting for nearly half her team’s scoring. Had Scherr been able to play the whole game, it may have ended up being a completely different outcome.

Maddie Scherr is an excellent defender

Finally, the loss of Sabally late in the third quarter was the dagger for the Ducks. Even though they were able to cut the lead to six early in the fourth quarter, the Ducks were not able to sustain that momentum without her scoring and presence inside.

Had the Ducks been fully healthy, I do believe they would have beaten Louisville, and even had a shot to compete with Stanford. Injuries, however, are a part of the game, and something every team has to go through. For the Ducks, it just so happened to come at the worst possible time. But injuries or not, those three games in the NCAA Tournament will pay major dividends for years to come.

Oregon Men Outclassed

On the Men’s side, the Ducks had a somewhat disappointing finish to a promising run. In the first ever matchup between two PAC-12 schools in the NCAA Tournament, USC got the better of the Ducks for the second time this season, winning 82-68. In what wasn’t really a close game after the first 10 minutes, USC proved to be playing too hot for the Ducks.

What this game came down to was just a bad matchup for the Ducks. Once in the NCAA Tournament, sometimes a run to the Final Four is all dependent on matchups. The size, length and athleticism was too much for the Ducks to crack. USC, consistently playing with four players who are 6’7 or taller, swarmed Oregon on defense, forcing the Ducks out of their rhythm constantly.

LJ Figueroa was a great role player this season

Yes, the Trojans once again had role players shoot the ball at an extremely high percentage, which forced the Ducks to press on offense. But it was easy to tell once USC started playing their zone defense that the Ducks were in trouble, and it would be difficult for them to score.

The best way to beat a zone defense is to find gaps inside the three-point line to get the ball. Then from there, a player can either attack the basket, or if the defense collapses, kick out to shooters on the outside. Against USC’s zone defense, the Ducks were unable to get the ball inside the three-point line consistently because of their tremendous length. This led to them settling for contested jump shots, or forcing a drive from the perimeter against multiple defenders.

The way USC ran their zone defense, whenever the Ducks would get the ball to the free throw line, the Trojans essentially switched to a man defense, guarding whoever was nearest to them. This generally left their center, Evan Mobley, one-on-one against the player with the ball. Normally, a one-on-one opportunity against a center on the perimeter would be a good matchup for the Ducks. But with Mobley’s athleticism, he was able to contain Oregon’s ball handlers and force them into tough shots.

Will Richardson will be the primary scorer next season if he returns

In the second half, Dana Altman put Chris Duarte at the high post, in attempt for him to be a scorer from that position. While this was good in theory, I believe it should have been Will Richardson who was used at the high post. Richardson struggled greatly against the Trojans, racking up only five points on 2-8 shooting.

Richardson is a good outside shooter when he is in rhythm, but can struggle shooting over the top of zone defenses. Where he is at his best is around the rim, creating off the dribble. That is very difficult to do against a zone defense, because all defenders are packed inside the three-point line, and ready for a drive. If the Ducks would have been able to get him the ball at the free throw line, he could have gotten not only himself more involved in the game, but gotten his teammates open shots as well.

The Ducks will be much bigger inside next season

USC is a very good team, there is no denying that. Going into this matchup, it would have taken the Ducks “A” game to come out with a win. And as we saw, the Ducks did not play their best game and were sent home. A tough pill to swallow for this Oregon team, but still a season to be proud of, and one that will keep momentum trending in the right direction for this program going forward.

The Future is Bright

Looking ahead for both of these programs, it doesn’t seem that they will be falling off from being in the discussion as part of the country’s best in their sports. The Women should have a boatload of talent returning, with a year of experience under their belt. The Men will unfortunately lose a few key players, but there is talent on the horizon, and we all know Altman always reloads. Look out for articles in the next couple weeks profiling what the both Duck programs might look like next year, and what it means for another possible PAC-12 and NCAA Tournament run.

Go Ducks!

Coach Alex Nordstrand
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo By Gary Breedlove

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