by Rob Moseley
The Oregon men's basketball team is about to take its act on the road. It will do so feeling ever so cautiously optimistic about its progress so far.
The Ducks won for the third time in three days Sunday, knocking off Cal Poly in the final game of the Global Sports Hardwood Challenge at Matthew Knight Arena, 82-61. Ranked No. 14 entering the event, Oregon stands a chance of finding itself ranked ahead of the No. 12 football team this week, for the first time since November 2007.
Oregon beat Pacific on Friday by limiting the Tigers to 20 field goals, but getting outrebounded. The Ducks topped North Dakota on Saturday despite 20 turnovers that led to 71 shots for the visitors. Sunday, the home team finally put it all together, posting a plus-eight rebounding margin and holding Cal Poly to 22-of-55 shooting.
"Couple lapses here and there," UO senior guard Johnathan Loyd said. "But all in all I think we played one of the best games this year. Defense-wise, for sure."
Now 7-0 on the season, Oregon will play its first true road game next Sunday at Mississippi; the neutral-site opener against Georgetown was hardly a hostile environment. The Ducks leave town knowing they've got guards who can play with anyone in the country, enough athletic forwards to hold their own up front, and a commitment to doing the dirty work.
They showed that Sunday against the Mustangs, limiting Cal Poly to nine offensive rebounds and 27 boards overall, and holding them to 34.6 percent shooting in the second half.
"I thought our guys really came out with a much better effort, defending and rebounding," said UO assistant Tony Stubblefield, who handled the postgame press conference while head coach Dana Altman nursed a sore back.
"Cal Poly is a scrappy team, runs their stuff well, but our guys did a good job of guarding it, and finishing plays well by rebounding."
Sophomore wing Damyean Dotson said Sunday night the Ducks "are still trying to find out who we are as a team." They know the eventual answer — a group that guards and defends, confident that offense will be supplied by the myriad weapons on hand.
Against Cal Poly, leading scorer Joseph Young was just another one of the guys, one of five players to finish with either 13 or 14 points. Second-leading scorer Mike Moser finished with just two points and one rebound, and third-leading scorer Jason Calliste finished with five points — four on an and-one three-pointer.
Collectively, the three newcomers are averaging 49.2 points per game. They totalled but 20 on Sunday, yet the outcome was never in doubt. Transfer forwards Richard Amardi and Elgin Cook each produced a confidence-inspiring 14 points, and Loyd knocked down three three-pointers.
"We're versatile," Loyd said.
For all the talk of the Ducks needing their bench to get through the three games in three days this weekend, it didn't happen. A.J. Lapray continues to be dogged by hip problems, and Jalil Abdul-Bassit's ankle issues flared up again Sunday.
So, everyone in the Ducks' primary rotation played about his usual amount of minutes over the three games, to no apparent detriment.
"Psychologically for our guys, it was good to see they could play those three games in three days without being exhausted," Stubblefield said.
The Ducks go on the road knowing they still need to communicate better, particularly when switching off on shooters at the perimeter. And they continue to play without preseason projected starters Dominic Artis and Ben Carter, who will miss two more games due to suspension.
But there's little concern their return to game action will spoil the identity Oregon is trying to forge.
"It starts in practice, and they practice with us," Dotson said. "Every day we go after the same identity: defense, rebounding."
During the three games of the Global Sports Hardwood Challenge, that identity became more and more apparent. Now, the Ducks will look to establish it in hostile territory.
NOTES: The Ducks improve to 7-0 for the first time since the 2006-07 season, when Oregon opened the year on a 13-game winning streak. … Oregon has won its past six games by double-figures, with an averaging victory margin of 19.3. …. Loyd became the sixth player in program history to join the 80-win club Sunday. (Other members: E.J. Singler, Fred Jones, Joevan Catron, Luke Jackson, Dick Wilkins). Loyd scored a season-high 13 points with five rebounds and five assists. … For the third time in the past four games, Oregon had five players reach double figure scoring: Amardi (14), Cook (14), Young (13), Dotson (13) and Loyd (13). … After committing 20 turnovers against North Dakota on Saturday, UO had just four turnovers against Cal Poly. … Oregon used a 13-2 run to open a 20-9 lead in the first half, and also went on a 13-2 run in the second half to expand its lead to 72-47. … UO led at halftime, 44-32. The Ducks have led at the half in six of seven contests this season. … The Ducks attempted 35 free throws — the most since taking 36 against San Francisco...Oregon has scored 80 points in six of seven games this season.