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Emerging depth has UO equipped for Pac-12 Tournament run
Release Date: 03/11/2014
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by Rob Moseley

Though neither was a starter, Jason Calliste and Ben Carter were Oregon's most valuable players in the critical final six minutes against Arizona on Saturday.

Thanks to those contributions off the bench, Oregon enters this week's Pac-12 Tournament riding a seven-game winning streak. The Ducks are seemingly assured of an NCAA Tournament berth, too, regardless of the results this week in Las Vegas.

The impact of Oregon's midseason swoon will be felt — the Ducks finished in a tie for third in the conference standings but are the No. 7 seed this week. That's because the group of tied teams included Stanford, Cal and Colorado, all of which beat the UO men (22-8) in their one meeting this season.

So, the Ducks will have to win four games to repeat as Pac-12 Tournament champs, beginning with Wednesday's opener against Oregon State (6 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks). But based on contributions from Carter, Calliste and others off the bench, the Ducks are confident they're built to weather the rigors of an extended run this week.

"That's a big factor," UO coach Dana Altman said prior to Oregon's practice Monday. "If you're going to win four games, guys have to step up. You've got to have minutes out of a lot of different people. Fortunately, I think we have that."

Oregon's upset of Arizona on Saturday featured big shots by Calliste, and several sublime contributions down the stretch from Carter — an assist and an offensive rebound to set up UO three-pointers, and a blocked shot in the final minute. Those were just the latest examples of big plays off the bench for the Ducks, whose reserves outscored their counterparts in all but one Pac-12 game this season.

Just as starters like Mike Moser took a refuse-to-lose attitude when Oregon's NCAA chances were in peril — Moser is riding a streak of four straight double-doubles — so too did the bench players buckle down for the stretch run.

"We understand the importance of it," said Calliste, a 92-game starter in three seasons at Detroit before starting just once this season at Oregon. "We knew we couldn't lose anymore games. So everybody just kind of got together and said, 'We've got to do what we've got to do' Regardless of how much time you get — five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 — you've got to contribute whatever you can."

Carter personified that against the Wildcats. A sophomore who made five starts earlier this season, Carter didn't get off the bench Saturday until nearly 17 minutes of the first half had elapsed.

But he was one of Oregon's MVPs in the final six minutes, assisting on three-pointers by Joseph Young and Johnathan Loyd, recording all four of his rebounds in the game and blocking a shot by Pac-12 player of the year Nick Johnson to protect a four-point UO lead with 32 seconds left.

Players talk all the time about staying engaged mentally on the bench, waiting for their shot. That's easier said than done, but for Oregon's reserves lately, it hasn't been just lip service.

They've lived up to the message on a sign posted in their locker room that reads: "Sometimes you; sometimes me; always us."

"At this point in the season, just like last year, you kind of do whatever you need to win ball games," Carter said. "Really that's all that matters at this point in the season. It can be difficult, but it's something that, at this point in the season, you need to really focus on. Every possession counts, it really does."

Calliste has set the tone for Oregon's bench all season with his selfless willingness to take on a reserve role. He's averaging 12.5 points per game, third on the team, and is the biggest factor in the Ducks' bench only having been outscored by opponents' reserves four times all season.

"He took it like a champ, like he is," said Loyd, who called Calliste one of the best shooters he's ever played with. "Being a (three)-year starter, asking to go to a new school and going to the bench is probably not easy. But he was like, I'll do whatever I have to do to help this team win."

Where would the Ducks be without Calliste's big shots, against the likes of BYU and Arizona? "I don't even know," Loyd said. "I don't want to think about that."

Calliste provides nearly half Oregon's average of 29 points per game off the bench, while opponents average 16.4.

Forwards Elgin Cook and Richard Amardi have been energetic frontcourt presences, and sophomore Domonic Artis has kept his head up while struggling to find his rhythm after a nine-game suspension to start the year. Players and coaches continue to suggest, based on practice performance, that guard Jalil Abdul-Bassit can be an asset if called upon, too.

In Wednesday's first-round matchup, Carter and Amardi figure to play key roles, helping starting post Waverly Austin defend the imposing OSU frontcourt of Angus Brandt, Devon Collier and Eric Moreland. The Ducks have a plus-28 rebounding margin over their last four games but were minus-nine in splitting the regular-season series with the Beavers (16-14).

"This is going to be big, for our bigs to secure the glass," Carter said. "That's a big issue with our team — if we don't rebound, we tend to get lazy. If we can rebound the ball, it should be a good matchup."

The big week for Austin and Carter against the Arizona schools has Oregon optimistic it can even the scales in the post against Oregon State.

"We've got Ben back there talking, Wave protecting the rim, Rich in there getting rebounds," Loyd said. "If we get production from that five spot, we're real dangerous, and I'm glad they're picking up their games. …

"They just keep getting better and better, and it's the right time of year to do that."

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