by Rob Moseley
Don't be afraid to let your eyes follow the ball Thursday night, because point guard play figures to be interesting to watch when Oregon hosts UCLA in Matthew Knight Arena.
For the Ducks (14-5, 2-5 Pac-12), sophomore Dominic Artis figures to make his third straight start. His season-high of 26 minutes could be in jeopardy, because senior backup Johnathan Loyd will be limited — if he plays at all — after suffering a broken nose in practice this week.
The Bruins (16-4, 5-2) counter with sophomore Kyle Anderson, a guy UO coach Dana Altman describes as "unique" in the challenge he poses to a defense. Anderson is closer than anyone else in the country to averaging a triple-double, bringing averages of 15.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game into Thursday night (6 p.m., ESPN2).
"He creates so many mismatches," Altman said Wednesday. "He plays the point at 6-8, 6-9, and we put (a guy) 5-9 on him, there's quite a difference there. You put 6-4, 6-5 on him, he still sees over them. And if you put a bigger guy on him, he works him outside."
Last week, Anderson was one of 25 players named to the midseason watch list for the Wooden Award as college basketball's best player. He's the first UCLA player to average at least 10 points, five assists and five rebounds through 20 games since Bill Walton in 1974.
Artis, a returning starter who missed the first nine games this season due to suspension, returned to the starting lineup last week at Washington and was at the point when the Ducks ended a five-game losing streak at WSU on Sunday. Altman said he went to Artis simply to change things up in the midst of the losing streak, but now it's critical to the Ducks that their second-year point guard play like the veteran he is.
"We need him to distribute the ball, to be an energy guy for our team," Altman said. "The point guard is the facilitator, the leader of the team."
Loyd was injured early in Tuesday's practice, catching an elbow to the nose in a rebounding drill. He was to be fitted with a protective mask in hopes of contributing Thursday.
"That's just a pain in the rear," Altman said. "Those things are hard to play with. There's always an adjustment to that, so regardless, that'll be tough on him."
But, Altman said, "If we have one guy who can bounce back and play, it's Johnny Loyd. I've done this a long time; Johnny Loyd is a tough young man."
The mood at Tuesday's practice was upbeat prior to Loyd's injury, Altman said, as the Ducks came in after breaking their losing streak and then enjoying a day off Monday.
"When we took a little slide, it was a real weight on our players," Altman said. "We're looking to come back home and get some things going."
Though Sunday's win at WSU came over the Pac-12's lowest scoring and worst shooting team, the Ducks felt they made strides defensively and on the boards, two areas of emphasis all season. After four of five opponents during the losing streak shot better than .500 and four of five outrebounded the Ducks, WSU shot .250 and Oregon had a plus-19 rebounding edge.
"We needed that win," UO senior Jason Calliste said. "We know we needed that win, so guys' heads are up a little bit more. We finally put 40 minutes together the other night, and now we need to continue to do that."
The lack of a dominant post defender has been key to the Ducks' deficiencies. UCLA doesn't feature a regular taller than 6-10, though Oregon has been hurt in the post by guards' penetration as much as opposing big men, and Bruins sophomore guard Jordan Adams is sixth in the conference in scoring with 17.3 points per game.
One spot above Adams on the Pac-12 scoring list is Oregon's Joseph Young, despite a shooting slump that has lasted four games now.
Young, who averages 17.6 points per game, is 11-of-39 from the floor the last two weeks, shooting .282. Altman said Young was in the gym working on his jump shot during the Ducks' day off Monday, and stayed late after practice Tuesday.
"It's nothing with his work ethic," Altman said. "It's just, he's missed a few shots. And that happens to good shooters; it happens to great shooters. He'll bounce out of it, and when he does our offense will start clicking again."
UO senior Mike Moser also is in the midst of a shooting slump, having hit at a .303 rate the last three games. With 15 points Thursday, Moser would get to 1,000 for his career, ironic considering he started his career at UCLA before transferring first to UNLV and then Oregon.
Trending the other direction is Calliste, who is shooting .677 (21-of-31) over the last four games. Altman said an injury contributed to some scoring woes for Calliste at midseason, and that he's benefitted from a recent return to health.
"Jason's a competitor," Altman said. "He's one of the quietest young men I've ever been around, but he's a competitor. When he's healthy, he's a good basketball player."
Thursday's game will be Oregon's first without forward Arik Armstead, who left the team Monday to focus on his football career.
Altman said Armstead was a valuable practice player the last two years, and was just starting to round into basketball shape nearly a month removed from the Ducks' Alamo Bowl win over Texas. But in the wake of Armstead's first career appearance in a mop-up role at WSU on Sunday, Altman couldn't promise him any extended playing time going forward.
"He wanted a bigger role," Altman said. "We've been practicing four months … and he's been with us three weeks. I understand every athlete wanting to compete and play. But at this point in time, we couldn't make a drastic change, so he felt he needed to concentrate on football and his studies."