Oregon and Portland State boast very different storylines so far this season.
The Ducks, looking to reload from last season’s Final Four run, have performed below their expectations, while the Vikings, who boast a fresh team full of transfers, have played far above theirs. Oregon is still piecing together its team and still trying to figure out what its identity is. The road has smoothed some recently — Oregon had won two straight — but many issues remain and it could be awhile before the Ducks plays their best basketball.
Portland State came into Wednesday’s matchup with an 8-2 record, still riding the high from its impressive PK80 performance. The Vikings were the surprise team of the tournament and used that momentum to rattle off three straight wins since that weekend.
They looked to make it four straight wins on Wednesday night with hopes of beating the in-state Ducks for the first time since 2009. A win against the team eight months removed from a Final Four run could signal a shift in the power structure of Oregon college hoops, if not for just one season.
Despite either team’s non-conference performances, Oregon showed why it’s still the best college basketball team in the state on Wednesday. The Ducks beat the Vikings 95-84 at Matthew Knight Arena in a game that resembled a track meet more than it did a basketball game. Five Oregon players scored in double-figures, led by Elijah Brown’s season-high 22, to lead the Ducks (8-3) to their third straight win and snapping Portland State’s (8-3) four-game win streak.
“We knew we were going to have our work cut out for us,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “Those guys can score.”
Both teams were able to produce at a high rate, but it was Oregon that got the crucial stops when it mattered most. The Ducks closed the first half on an 18-4 run and took punch after punch from the Vikings down the stretch in the second half. Bryce Canda scored 26 of his team-high 31 points in the second half as he single-handedly kept his team in the game. He scored 18 of the Vikings’ last 24 points.
But Oregon matched the Vikings almost bucket-for-bucket when it mattered. After having some trouble with Portland State’s full-court press in the first half, the Ducks whipped the ball around the court coming out of the break, attacking each crack in the Vikings’ defense. The aggressive approach led to open shots and Oregon finished with 27 assists on 32 made baskets.
“We were able to string together some stops, able to talk on defense and we were just trusting in each other,” forward Paul White said. “The press, we started to find holes in it and luckily we got some easy baskets from it.”
White finished with 15 points, while freshman Kenny Wooten continued his strong play of late with 18 points, five rebounds and six blocks off the bench. Fellow freshman Troy Brown finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, one assist shy of what would’ve been Oregon’s first triple-double in 15 years.
“I messed up his triple-double, by the way, so I definitely apologized for that,” said Elijah Brown, who missed a layup late in the second half that would’ve secured history for Troy.
Payton Pritchard chipped in 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for an Oregon team that travels to Fresno State for its next game. The Bulldogs have won seven straight and are undefeated at home. They welcome the Ducks on Saturday for a 3 p.m. PT tip-off.
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris