By Rob Moseley
There was a lot to like in Oregon’s exhibition opener.
Jason Calliste and Joseph Young were as advertised as scorers in the Ducks’ win over Northwest Christian on Sunday. Elgin Cook provided some grit and athleticism on defense. All in all, Dana Altman’s newest team looks ready to build once again on the success of the previous version.
“We haven’t hit our stride yet, of course,” senior guard Johnathan Loyd said. “Through the year that’ll happen, as it does every year. (When it does,) that’s going to be a really, really good team."
Voters in The Associated Press top 25 poll also recognize that potential. The Ducks were installed as the preseason No. 19 team in the country Thursday, after previously being ranked 18th in the coaches’ poll.
For the Ducks to live up to that billing, there’s much to improve, beginning in Saturday’s exhibition against Point Loma in Matthew Knight Arena at 2 p.m. As Altman made clear Sunday evening, the first item of business is rebounding – he didn’t like the Ducks’ effort against Northwest Christian, and made it a focus of practices since.
Oregon had a 45-34 rebounding edge Sunday, but the Beacons had 15 offensive boards. That’s the potential for 30 second-chance points, a killer total against an opponent in the regular season.
“Everybody has focused on rebounding,” sophomore wing Damyean Dotson said. “That’s the biggest thing we need to work on right now.”
The Ducks are moving on without last year’s primary rebounding presence, Arsalan Kazemi. They figure to need more of a group effort in 2013-14, from the likes of Mike Moser, Richard Amardi and Ben Carter, not to mention the perimeter players.
Moser averaged a double-double as a sophomore for UNLV two seasons ago. He’d like to get back to that level of production at Oregon, and had eight points with seven rebounds in 17 minutes Sunday.
“We learned we’re really far from the team we want to be,” Moser said. “We need to improve on things like transition defense and rebounding.”
There’s a particular sense of urgency for Saturday’s exhibition. Looming just six days later is the regular-season opener, against Georgetown. Loyd said preparations this preseason are like those of two years ago, when the Ducks had another big test to open the regular season, at Vanderbilt.
“We have to really go against each other hard in practice to prepare for that game,” Loyd said.
Added Moser: “We know what kind of team they are – the experience they have, and what that brings to the table. But at the same time, it’s really hard to rush the process, because we have so many new guys.”
It’s a fine line the Ducks must walk, pushing themselves to be ready for the Georgetown game and beyond, while still taking the time to build chemistry among the new faces.
“I don’t know if we showed that as well as we probably could have Sunday,” Moser said. “We’re still working to that point where everybody knows each other, and knows where they’re going to be (on the court). Where it’s natural, rather than having to think so much.”
Against Point Loma on Saturday afternoon, there’s one last chance to build that chemistry in a non-counting game, before things get real.