Men's BasketballSports

Chris Boucher may be Oregon’s most important player

Sunday night, reigning national junior college player of the year Chris Boucher scored a career-high 26 points to go along with 10 rebounds and seven blocks, as then-ranked No. 23 Oregon knocked off Arizona State 91-74 on the road. Not only did Boucher help lead the Ducks to their third sweep of the Arizona schools in program history, he also weaved together his best game at the Division I level with his sixth double-double of the season.

Much of that can be attributed to his understanding of the game. Even before conference play started, Boucher knew what his role on this team was going to be and he’s stuck to it ever since.

“Rebounding, I knew that I could do a lot of work in there,” Boucher said after the Ducks’ win over Long Beach State. “Scoring is just secondary. My primary role is to take down rebounds and block shots.”

Boucher, a junior college transfer, who currently ranks in the top three for blocks in the country, is, without a doubt, Oregon’s most valuable new addition. He’s currently on pace to not only break Jordan Bell’s single-season record of 94 blocks set last year, but also Oregon’s program-best 116, set by Blair Rasmussen.

On the season, Boucher is averaging 12.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 blocks.

“Chris is continuing to get better,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “He’s just a unique player. His feet and his balance are really good. He doesn’t get knocked off easy and he’s wiry strong.”

The first impressions are consistent with Boucher: he’s lanky, skinny, deceivingly skilled and athletic. Like Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg put it in a December article: “Boucher was thin as a sapling, all slender arms and spindly legs,” with a narrow frame that “suggested he might not ever grow big and strong enough to avoid being pushed around near the basket.”

But, more like bamboo than a sapling, Boucher is strong, and most importantly, flexible.

For a player who grew up playing soccer and hockey, it’s nothing short of surprising to see him consistently influence the game at a high level, handling much heavier, NBA-bound big men with ease.

“Chris is a different animal,” Bell said. “He gets shots I don’t think I could even get.”

Already, Boucher has more than held his own against Baylor’s Rico Gathers (6-foot-8, 275 lbs), California’s Ivan Rabb (6-foot-10, 220 lbs), Utah’s Jakob Poeltl (7-foot, 248 lbs) and most recently, Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski (7-foot, 256 lbs). All are much bigger, physical post players. But Boucher uses his athleticism to his advantage. In those matchups alone, he had 12 combined blocks.

“It’s just my mindset of not giving up,” Boucher said. “I know they’re bigger than me and I can’t really do anything about it, so the best thing I can do is just work hard and run the floor: stuff that they can’t do, that I can do.”

Few times has this program been fortunate enough to feature a game-changing post player. And with Boucher, things really are different.

“His frame scared me when I saw him a year ago in the summer,” Altman said. “I was excited about how he ran and everything, but in my mind, I’m like ‘too thin.’ But he’s fearless and he’s been a lot of fun to work with. I just hope he can continue to do what he’s been doing because he’s a game changer.”

In a few months – Oregon will presumably be NCAA tournament bound – ESPN’s Joe Lunardi recently projected the Ducks as high as a No. 4 seed and picked them to win the Pac-12. If this team, which ranks No. 3 in the ESPN’s RPI standings, wants to make a deep run in March, Boucher will have to continue his dominant play. Because when he’s on, this team is at its best.

“It’s new, coming from junior college,” Boucher said. “I know that I’m at a bigger level now, so everything counts. I’m trying to give my 100 percent every time and enjoy the most of it.”

Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim

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Hayden Kim

Hayden Kim