By Rob Moseley
Oregon men’s basketball coach Dana Altman doesn’t shy away from his serious, businesslike reputation. To the contrary, he embraces it.
“I’m not a real fun guy,” Altman said prior to practice Wednesday, a smile spreading across his usually dour face.
That said, Altman has tried to put forth a different attitude this week with his Ducks, who are navigating a four-game losing streak that followed a 13-0 start to the season.
Altman described the streak Wednesday as being both “the weight of the world” on the Ducks’ shoulders, and not just a monkey but “a gorilla” on their backs. As such, he’s trying to keep the mood as light as possible entering Thursday's game at Washington (8 p.m, Fox Sports 1).
The Ducks said following Sunday’s loss at Oregon State that they didn’t plan to review the game on film, so as not to dwell on their latest defeat. Sure enough, sophomore Damyean Dotson said Wednesday he’d yet to watch any film at all this week, prior to the team’s review of the Huskies later in the day.
“We’ve had a big setback here; we’ve had a few weeks where we haven’t played good basketball,” Altman said. “That’s not gonna change by me harping on all the negatives; we’ve got to correct some of the negatives, but this is still a good basketball team. …
“You change things up. We’ve been grinding on film and things we haven’t done well, and that didn’t work. So we didn’t watch any film of Oregon State. We’re just moving ahead.”
After one recent loss, Altman spoke of the need for his team to do some soul-searching, and that has started from the top. In his quest to get the Ducks to play tougher on defense, tougher under the glass and tougher with games on the line, Oregon’s tough-as-nails head coach has gone against form the last few days.
“It’s more important for me to maybe spend a little time with the guys, talk to them a little more,” Altman said. “But we don’t change our expectations, don’t change our demands, don’t change what we really believe in. Yes, there are some things that you’ve got to adjust, but there are certain things that are non-negotiable. …
“We’re not going to dig out of this by being soft; we’ve got to fight back. But still, you’ve got to have the guys want to come to the gym. It’s always good to see them here early, and it’s always good to see them wanting to stay after.”
The Ducks enter Thursday coming off one of their most confounding performances of the season. Their bugaboo in three losses preceding Sunday was defense; Colorado, Cal and Stanford were the first three UO opponents this season to shoot better than .500. Oregon State shot a manageable .451, but Oregon – one of the highest scoring teams in the nation – shot a season-low .379 in losing 80-72.
Junior guard Joseph Young, Oregon’s leading scorer, has endured consecutive five-point outputs in the losses to Stanford and Oregon State. He said the Ducks need to do a better job of getting to the basket; recently, he said, he’s driven as much for the sake of drawing fouls as finishing plays.
“Stay more aggressive is our main focus,” Young said.
The Huskies enter Thursday at 11-8, having swept Colorado and Utah at home to open Pac-12 play before losing at Cal and Stanford. They’re allowing opponents to shoot .480 this season, worst in the conference by 41 points (Oregon and WSU are tied for 10th at .439.)
Washington’s tallest regular is 6-foot-9, probably a welcome sight for an Oregon team that’s been hurt by its own lack of size in recent weeks.
“We’re not quite as undersized against them, so hopefully we’ll be able to get to the basket a little bit more and create a few more things on the offensive end,” said Altman, who benched 6-11 post Waverly Austin at OSU in favor of Ben Carter and Richard Amardi, each 6-8.
Despite Sunday’s offensive woes in Corvallis, defense remains the point of emphasis for Altman. A team that relies as heavily as Oregon does on jump shooters will have off nights, but he expects the defensive intensity, execution and communication to be consistent.
“Last game we were talking a lot; in practice we’ve been talking,” Dotson said. “It’s here or there where we don’t say nothing, and bad things happen when you don’t talk. They score or get a rebound or something. But I feel like it’s getting better.”
To make sure of it, Altman is pushing a few different buttons with the Ducks this week, trying to his best to keep their confidence up through a difficult stretch of games.
“My job’s trying to find a way to get ‘em going again,” Altman said. “Hopefully that’ll start Thursday night.”