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Illini must deal with balanced Oregon attack in Portland
Release Date: 12/13/2013
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By Rob Moseley

Among the strangest results for the Oregon men’s basketball team during its perfect eight-game run to start the 2013-14 season was a Dec. 1 victory over Cal Poly.

That night, senior forward Mike Moser scored all of two points. That was strange because, through eight games, Moser is averaging 15.0 per night. And it was strange because, despite that 13-point disparity between average and production from their second-leading scorer, the Ducks didn’t skip a beat, winning 82-61.

Entering Saturday’s visit by Illinois (9-1) to the Moda Center in Portland (6:05 p.m., ESPN2), No. 15 Oregon is second nationally in scoring at 91.4 points per game. Of the top 100 teams in the country, none could match the Ducks’ total of six players averaging double digits, at least as of Thursday.

“As a cast, we’ve really taken the pressure off each other,” Moser said. “It’s always a really balanced box score at the end of the game.”

Usually, the Ducks have been led by junior transfer Joseph Young, who is averaging 20.1 per game. After Moser’s 15.0 points per game, Oregon has four players averaging between 10.3 and 11.1 – Johnathan Loyd, Damyean Dotson, Elgin Cook and Jason Calliste.

That kind of balance makes the UO men increasingly tough to defend.

“If they lock in on me, you have Mike Moser; if they lock in on Mike Moser, they have Dotson; if they lock in on Dotson, they have J-Loyd,” Young said. “There’s so many combos, and mostly everybody can score.”

Moser’s two-point anomaly against Cal Poly wasn’t the only unusual output the Ducks have been able to survive. Loyd scored four points in a win over Pacific. Dotson had two in a victory over North Dakota. Yet you’d hardly have noticed a different.

There have also been nights when the Ducks have everybody going. Sunday’s win at Mississippi was the second time in five games that six players scored in double figures in the same game, and the fourth out of the last five in which at least five players did so.

Along with Oregon’s win total, Loyd’s assist total has benefitted from all that balance. He had 15 assists at Mississippi, second all-time at Oregon, and 13 against Pacific. And the plethora of weapons means the defense can’t focus on one or two, opening up floor space for everybody – the Ducks are shooting .529 as a team, fifth nationally.

“We’ve got guys that can finish plays,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “This season has a long ways to go, and it’ll be interesting to see how they continue to work together. But I like the way we’re sharing the ball, and we do have a number of guys that can finish  plays.”

Oregon’s regular rotation also includes reserve forward Richard Amardi’s 7.3 points per game, along with starting center Waverly Austin, whose production has lagged through the first few weeks of the season.

All that production will be tested by an Illinois squad Altman calls “a good defensive team, probably the best we’ve faced.”

Oregon’s depth will get a boost after Saturday’s game against Illinois, the last of the nine that sophomores Dominic Artis and Ben Carter will sit out due to suspension for selling team-issued shoes.

In the absence of Artis, Loyd has stepped up at point guard, and perhaps made a stronger case than might have been expected for regular minutes following Artis’ return. Calliste’s ability to shoulder some of that load also has been key to the Ducks’ surviving without their projected starting point guard.

“Everybody stepped up a little bit,” Altman said. “Those two guys will help us with our depth when they get back, but other guys have stepped up and done a good job.”

Carter will provide a front court boost to complement Artis’ return in the back court. At question is how their return will cut into the minutes of current regulars, decisions Altman said he will begin to make following Saturday’s game.

“Sharing minutes is no problem,” Young said. “It’s like sharing the ball. … This is a team thing.”

Artis and Carter are slated to return when the Ducks host UC Irvine on Tuesday in Matthew Knight Arena (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).

Moser will play his first game in his hometown of Portland since graduating from Grant High School.

Moser said his UNLV team played at UP last season, while he was injured. He did play in the Moda Center, then called the Rose Garden, while in high school.

“The emotions, whatever, are going to be there,” said Moser, who predicted between 100 and 150 family, friends and Grant alumni in attendance. “But at the same time, it’s just another game. It’s a really good team we’ve got to play, so we’ve just got to be ready for them.”

Altman predicted Moser will handle those emotions with poise.

“Mike’s pretty (steady) all the time,” Altman said, joking that “he’s just a couple years younger than I am, I think.”

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