Men's BasketballSports

Oregon excited about its improvement



Jack Hunter

Two games are left in this season. Just two games separate the No. 11 Oregon Ducks and the postseason — whatever that might bring.
 

The pressure is mounting for Oregon, and with a key battle on Saturday in Tucson with second place Arizona, it’s even harder for the team to ignore that this week is the latest, biggest game of the season.
 

“We know what’s at stake,” junior wide receiver Jeff Maehl said. “Everyone knows in the back of their head what’s at stake. We just have to be mentally better than that and put all of our focus on Arizona.”
 

Safety T.J. Ward said it gets even more important to take games one week at a time this late in the season because if you drop one of two games going into the home stretch, the consequences are magnified. Head coach Chip Kelly agreed, saying that this is the home stretch and everyone has geared up for their trip to Tucson.
 

“Guys understand how important the game is on Saturday,” Kelly said. “Our energy has been great.”
 

The energy comes from how loose practice has been this week. Every day in practice this week guys were laughing and joking around. Today the team finished with its usual clutch drill, and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli hooked up with tight end Ed Dickson for a 30 yard pass over the middle that Dickson had to dive to catch at the one yard line. Masoli scored three plays later and the good-natured ribbing commenced.
 

“It was a good way to end practice,” Masoli said. “Guys have fun with it and get the competition flowing.”
 

“Whether I liked (practice) or not, I would have to do it,” offensive lineman Mark Asper said. “So the best way to do it is just to come out and have fun with it.”
 

Wide receivers coach Scott Frost said that the simulation of game situations is a good way to practice because it prepares them for what they’re going to see. Plus he thinks it’s cool that the team just likes practicing so much.
 

“Yeah, it’s always good to simulate the situations you’re going to play in the game,” Frost said. “The way our practice is structured, our kids enjoy practicing and that’s kind of a rare thing, and I think that shows up on Saturday.”
 

Asper joked that they’ve been playing against the defense for so long now, they know exactly what they’re going to do and vice versa.
 

“We’ve been playing against the defense since August,” Asper said. “It’s, ‘I know what you’re gonna do, you know what I’m gonna do,’ and you have fun with it because it’s a game of inches. Two or three inches between making a block and missing a block. They know it and we know it, so it’s a lot of fun.”
 

The smiles continued after the final huddle, too. During an Emerald photo shoot of Maehl for the Game Day supplement for Friday’s paper, Ward, cornerbacks Talmadge Jackson III and Javes Lewis jumped into the photo with him and posed. Masoli cat-called from just out of the frame, yelling, “Jeff! You made it big time!”
 

It was just another demonstration of the camaraderie on this team.
 

“This year, there’s good attitude on the team … lot of good energy and it’s fun to just fly around and play football,” Asper said.
 

It’s all part of a changing culture in Eugene. Since Kelly took over the reins of the team last spring, the team has ramped up the tempo and has carved out a new image for itself. Each member of the cog specializes in his position, and when you put all 11 pieces on the field at the same time, it equals a machine.
 

“Everyone has a piece like a car,” Asper said. “Some has to be the tires, someone has to be the engine, someone has to be the steering wheel, someone has to drive. So, everybody has bought into their roles on the team. They just do what they’re supposed to do and that’s it.”
 

And just like the candid photo from Wednesday’s practice shows, this team is having a blast living in the moment.

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