by Rob Moseley
With Dominic Artis and Ben Carter back from suspension, the Oregon men's basketball team certainly didn't get any flashier. But with the sublime presence of the two sophomores back on the court, the Ducks, now up to 10-0 this season, look even better.
The latest victim of coach Dana Altman's 13th-ranked juggernaut was UC Irvine, which left Matthew Knight Arena on Tuesday with a 91-63 defeat. It was the first appearance for Artis and Carter after a nine-game NCAA suspension, their presence only enhancing what has been one of the nation's best teams this season.
"Having a lot of talent never seemed to be a problem on any teams I've ever played on," UO senior Mike Moser said with a smile.
Artis and Carter didn't return with a bang. Joseph Young was still the Ducks' leading scorer Tuesday, with 18 points, and Moser remained his principle sidekick with 15.
Carter had just two field goals, but one was a baseline jumper and the other a banked hook shot, scoring savvy Oregon's posts haven't flashed often this season. Artis finished with five points and three assists, in 26 minutes. But Oregon's 12-of-17 three-point shooting spoke to the efficiency of the Ducks' ball movement, and the number of open shots created with Artis on the floor.
"It's a whole new squad when they came in," Young said.
Artis also added a career-high eight rebounds, welcome productivity from a guard in that area; it prompted Altman to joke that "I guess he's heard me complain about it all these weeks." Seven of those came on the defensive end, as the Ducks limited UC Irvine to 40.7 shooting and few second chances.
Altman surprised the Ducks a little postgame by praising their defensive effort, rare kudos from a coach who sets the bar in that area exceedingly high. Moser said Oregon's communication on switches has improved over the last two weeks, most notably in the wake of a win on the road in overtime nine days earlier.
"Mississippi was really when we finally got that together," Moser said. "We were in the thick of it — you're on the road, close game, you have no choice but to communicate if you want to win. I think that's when we learned how important it is."
Among the defensive highlights Tuesday was a three-second call on 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, when the 6-8 Carter denied the Anteaters' attempts to feed the ball into the post. Moser said Carter "really gets it" on defense, and "definitely makes my job easier."
The Ducks also recorded a season-best 13 steals, an aggressive mentality made possible by the enhanced numbers due to the return of Artis and Carter.
"When we've got guys, we want to be in those passing lanes," Altman said. "We need to expend some energy, extend the defense. I want to get as many hands on balls (as possible) now.
"Our depth doesn't do us much good unless we're able to get more possessions, speed the game up and try to utilize that depth as much as we can."
As much as the presence of Artis and Carter helped, the Ducks still lack a true post presence. They matched up Waverly Austin and Moser on Ndiaye, and Moser joked afterward that you couldn't really call what he provided on Ndiaye "defense."
The Ducks seemed reluctant to attack the post with Ndiaye on the court — "you don't want to go into the paint, that's for sure," Moser said — but players said that wasn't a directive from coaches. Rather, it was more a function of their success hitting open jumpers.
Oregon opened the game with 54.3 percent shooting, taking a 48-29 halftime lead. Consecutive three-pointers by Jason Calliste, Moser and Damyean Doston broke it open early, giving the Ducks a 21-10 edge, and they led by as much as 21 in the half.
After halftime the game grew sloppy, but Oregon was never threatened, easily negotiating the need to work Artis and Carter back into the rotation. Foul trouble for starting point guard Johnathan Loyd eliminated some of Altman's decision-making and contributed to Artis' total of 26 minutes. But overall the Ducks rotated extensively, at one point putting five fresh players on the court together, despite no obvious miscues by the quintet they replaced.
That's just the level of depth Oregon has at this point, with Artis and Carter back in the fold.
"It's a great problem to have," Altman said. "And it's not really a problem; it's a long season and you're going to have all kinds of adversity. Guys might have to be patient, but I think our guys are mature enough to deal with that."
NOTES: Oregon improves to 10-0 for the first time since the 2006-07 season, when the Ducks opened the season with a 13-game win streak. Oregon is one of 13 unbeaten teams remaining in the country. … Young (18), Moser (15), Dotson (14) and Calliste (10) led the Ducks on offense. The Ducks have had at least four players with 10-plus points in each of the last seven games. … The Ducks held a 38-3 advantage in bench scoring. … The Ducks posted a season-high in three-pointers made, going 12-of-19 from deep. Moser (3-4), Young (2-4), Calliste (2-2) and Jalil Abdul-Bassit (2-2) led Oregon from behind the arc...Oregon's 13 steals were a season high and one shy of the Matthew Knight Arena record.