As the old saying goes: “Defense wins championships.”
Oregon head coach Dana Altman had a similar sentiment after the Ducks won 70-54 in a lackluster performance against Coppin State on Friday, specifically struggling on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think the offense will come,” Altman said. “I think our ball movement will improve; we’ll execute some things. But I’m much more concerned whether we take our defense seriously.”
Oregon held Coppin State to just 14 points during the first half, shooting 4-for-28. But any hint of defensive prowess that the Ducks possessed faded during the second half as they allowed the Coppin Bald Eagles to cut the deficit to as few as 10 points.
“Defensively the second half was terrible,” sophomore Payton Pritchard said. “Right now, defensively, we’re struggling. A team like that — we shouldn’t be struggling like that inside.”
Last season, Coppin State was 8-24. They often lost by double digits, losing by as much as 52 points against Georgetown.
Pritchard also emphasized the Ducks’ lack of steals, while on the other side of the ball they were getting the ball stolen from them.
“I think one possession we almost turned the ball over four times,” he said.
The Ducks had just four steals. Coppin State recorded six.
This new Oregon team is made up of seven new players, including five true freshmen. With so many key players from last year’s Final Four team gone, including Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher — Oregon’s first and second all-time leading shot blockers — this year’s team has some big shoes to fill defensively. Pritchard says that without Bell and Boucher on the inside, on-ball defense “has to be tremendous.”
Besides Roman Sorkin’s team-leading 23 points and Troy Brown’s 18 points, the Ducks didn’t have much of an offensive presence, either. But Altman isn’t worried about that.
“There wasn’t much communication, and we gave up a lot of easy shots,” Altman said. “Offensively our ball movement wasn’t very good the second half. We weren’t well organized. I think we can do that because the guys want to do that, but defensively we’ve got to have some volunteers to step up and start guarding.”
With a team full of offensive-minded athletes, Altman says that the Ducks have to change their mindset going forward and focus on the defensive fundamentals.
“Take it seriously,” Altman said. “We’ve got to guard. We’ve got a locker full of guys, 13 guys on the bench, right now who all consider themselves — their first goal is to score. Until we get some guys that place as much emphasis on the defensive end and on the rebounding — some guys that are willing to step up and be defenders first — I think we’ll struggle.”
Follow Kylee O’Connor on Twitter @kyleethemightee