Men's BasketballSports

Oregon looks to bounce back against talent-stacked California

Like countless others across the country, the Oregon men’s basketball team circled around a TV Monday night and watched the season’s best college game this season. No. 1 Kansas downed No. 2 Oklahoma 109-106 in triple overtime. Some of the nation’s best – Buddy Hield (career-high 46 points), Perry Ellis (27), Wayne Selden (21) – went head-to-head in a matchup that featured superb guard play, gritty team defense, and most impressively, 55 minutes of non-stop action.

“One of the best college basketball games I’ve seen in a long time,” Dana Altman said. “Wow, was that a game.”

All throughout the game, the Ducks kept a live thread of text messages on a group chat filled with their thoughts and impressions about the two top tier teams. At Tuesday’s practice, the game was all they could talk about.

“There was enthusiasm and effort there, especially for almost three halves,” Dillon Brooks said. “Everybody was watching and on the group chat. (We were all saying) this game could translate to our game: having more enthusiasm for the game, defensive stops and just going out there trying to win games.”

Just before practice began, Ducks assistant coach Tony Stubblefield grabbed Tyler Dorsey and asked: “Did you see how hard their guards played?”

For Altman and his players, who are fresh off a 70-57  loss to Oregon State, Monday night’s heavyweight fight was a stark reminder about how the game should be played: with passion, heart, energy and clean execution on both sides of the ball — exactly what was missing for Oregon as it got outhustled, outplayed and out-executed Sunday in front of a packed Gill Coliseum.

“Some of us thought it was going to be an easy game, but they came out with a different passion for the game and we couldn’t match that,” Brooks said. “They had a sold out crowd and we weren’t ready for that.”

Oregon prepares for a talent stacked California team that features three potential NBA first round picks – Ivan Rabb (12.4 PPG), Jaylen Brown (14.3 PPG) and Jabari Bird (8.7 PPG). Cal is coming off an impressive 71-58 win over formerly No. 21 ranked Utah.

The matchup comes at a time in which the Ducks are still looking for the answer to a key question: Can this team find its vocal leader and fulfill its potential before it’s too late?

“Dylan Ennis is our biggest candidate (to be our vocal leader), he’s that way by nature,” Altman said. “Some of the other guys aren’t afraid to lead, but they’re just not as vocal. That takes some time.”

In each of its three losses against Boise State, UNLV and Oregon State – all on the road – Oregon has lacked energy, fight, execution or all three combined. It’s been a big disappointment for Altman who has high hopes for this team. Whether it is a lack of consistent attention to detail or unwillingness to bring their full effort against less talented opponents, there is no debating that Oregon has underachieved its own expectations through its first 14 games.

“We’re struggling having effort and enthusiasm for the game,” Brooks said.

Altman can only hope his team figures things out.

“We’ve got competitors on the team,” Altman said. “Guys who have been with us, I know they’re competitive (and) I think the news guy are (too). We’ve got a group that fought some adversity in years past, so I think they’ll do just that. (I’d be) really disappointed if they don’t.”

To be fair, injuries have handcuffed this team’s chemistry building process early on, but now, with Jordan Bell and Ennis back on the floor, there aren’t any excuses left. Three losses midway through the season isn’t the end of the world,  but if Oregon can’t fix its glaring deficiencies – outside shooting, turnovers and lack of a consistent vocal leader – the L’s will start to pile on quickly.

“I’ve been disappointed,” Altman said. “Heck, I’m disappointed in myself. We just got to pick it up and get everybody on the same page.”

Wednesday night, Oregon will return home with the good fortunes of health and to a crowd that wants to see them prove they are worthy of a top 25 ranking. It may not be as thrilling as the Jayhawks and Sooners, but will be another opportunity for Oregon to get closer to establishing its identity.

Notes: Freshman Trevor Manuel recently requested permission to transfer from the program. Altman said he reached out to Manuel this morning, but hasn’t heard back.

“I haven’t talked with him, so I don’t know what his stance is today,” Altman said. “But yeah, I think he’s going to transfer. The door is always open. I don’t want him to leave, obviously. I think he’s got a lot of upside.”

Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim

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Hayden Kim

Hayden Kim