By Rob Moseley
When Oregon and BYU tip off in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Milwaukee, it will be one day shy of three full months since the Ducks and Cougars met in the regular season.
Given all that each team has experienced since, that feels like forever.
Back on Dec. 21, the UO men improved to 11-0 with a 100-96 overtime victory against BYU in Matthew Knight Arena. Oregon’s Jason Calliste scored a career-high 31 points that day, so of course he’s champing at the bit to face the Cougars again, right?
“That has nothing to do with anything,” Calliste said, repeating himself for emphasis. “Nothing to do with anything.”
“We are a different team – we’re better defensively, we’re clicking on all cylinders offensively,” Calliste added. “And I know they’re better defensively and offensively as well, because I’ve been watching them. So it’s going to be a completely different game from the first time we played them.”
Stylistically, Thursday’s rematch could be similar. Only one Oregon game this season – an overtime win at Mississippi – featured more points than the 196 the Ducks (23-9) and Cougars combined for in December. Both teams have continued to score since.
BYU (23-11) averages 84.2 points per game, third-most in the country this season and first among NCAA Tournament teams. Oregon is No. 10 overall, at 81.8 points per game.
“They like to play fast, we like to play fast, so it should be an up-and-down game,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “I don’t think anybody will be holding the ball.”
The Cougars, however, will be playing their first game without sophomore Kyle Collinsworth. After opening last week’s WCC Tournament with career-highs of 23 points and 16 rebounds in a win over Loyola Marymount, Collinsworth suffered a season-ending knee injury in the finals, a loss to Gonzaga.
Collinsworth was BYU’s second-leading scorer with 14.0 points per game, and led the Cougars in both rebounds (8.1) and assists (4.6) per game. He had 15 points, five rebounds and eight assists against the Ducks in December.
“He was a big part of the game here,” UO point guard Johnathan Loyd said. “They’re going to have a different lineup and a different attack.”
Altman, though, cautioned against thinking BYU will struggle to replace Collinsworth’s production Thursday.
“When a guy goes out for one game, everybody’s excited to pick him up,” Altman said, while conceding that BYU probably would miss Collinsworth were it to advance deeper into the tournament. “Whoever’s backing him up is really excited about the opportunity.”
Against Gonzaga, Collinsworth was limited to 24 minutes, and freshman guard Frank Bartley stepped in for 19 – after playing only three in an overtime defeat of San Francisco the day before. Bartley had nine points and four rebounds against the Zags, and is averaging 3.7 points and 2.1 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game for the season.
The Cougars still can turn to 6-foot-5 junior guard Tyler Haws, the nation’s sixth-leading scorer at 23.4 points per game. Though Haws has slumped a bit of late – shooting .414 in the last five games, compared to .466 for the season – he remains a focus of Oregon’s scouting report for his ability to shoot jumpers off the dribble.
“He has the complete offensive package, really,” Loyd said.
Mired in a scoring slump of his own, having shot 3-of-15 at the Pac-12 Tournament, UO sophomore Damyean Dotson could play a big role Thursday by helping slow down Haws.
“We’ve just got to stay attached to him, try not to let him catch it,” Dotson said.
While the Cougars are a thinner team now than in December, Oregon’s rotation has expanded. The first UO-BYU matchup was the second appearance of the season for UO sophomores Dominic Artis and Ben Carter, after their nine-game suspensions to open the season.
Artis played 11 minutes in that game, and Carter played six. Last week at the Pac-12 Tournament, they were two of the Ducks’ best players in the win over Oregon State, combining for 43 minutes. Carter and Artis played a combined 34 minutes in the loss to UCLA.
Both the Ducks and Cougars enter the NCAA Tournament licking their wounds after falling short of a conference tournament title. But Altman said he was pleased with how Oregon responded in its return to practice Sunday, and that Calliste should be OK on Thursday after an abdominal issue against the Bruins.
“It was tough, because we just didn’t play very well,” Altman said. “They’ll bounce back. They’ll be ready to go.”