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Ducks' toughness tested in advance of Sunday's Civil War
Release Date: 01/16/2014
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By Rob Moseley

After a day off Monday to lick their wounds from three losses in eight days, the Oregon men’s basketball team got back to work in practice Tuesday.

The Ducks’ next game, Sunday at Oregon State (5:05 p.m., ESPNU), was several days off. So rather than begin preparing specifically for the Beavers, the Ducks could deal with their own woes – mainly, head coach Dana Altman’s twin season-long foibles, defense and rebounding.

“We definitely picked up the intensity of it a lot,” UO senior Mike Moser said Wednesday. “Kind of did some new things; coach threw some ‘tough man’ drills out there, and we tried to get after it and really compete.”

The “tough man” drill apparently involved three players, one ball, a confined area under the hoop and no escape, until a guy was able to hit two layups amid all that chaos.

“It’s really no fouls, as physical as can be,” Moser said. “If you’re not tough, you’ll be in there all day.”

Altman found need to test the Ducks’ toughness after defeats to Colorado, Cal and Stanford in little more than a week’s time. In all three, Oregon allowed its opponent to shoot better than .500 and win the rebounding battle, costing the UO men their spot in the top 25.

Moser and fellow senior Jason Calliste were fairly moribund in postgame interviews following Sunday’s loss to Stanford. But by Tuesday, the attitude was “energetic,” sophomore Damyean Dotson said.

“Nobody likes to lose, but we feel like if we’ve got something to work on, we can’t be down about it in practice,” Dotson said. “… I guess we deserved it after the hard week we had.

“But everybody seems to be on board. We need to get better at defense, and just play tougher than we have.”

Oregon (13-3, 1-3 Pac-12) enters Sunday’s Civil War against the Beavers (9-7, 1-3) ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 77.7 points per game, and eighth in rebounding margin at plus-2.1. To account for pace of play, Altman said, field-goal percentage defense is a better barometer of where the Ducks rank in the conference, but that’s not the coach trying to sugar-coat the issue – Oregon is No. 11 there, allowing foes to shoot .438.

A major deficiency has been the lack of “a rim protector,” someone in the mold of 2013 senior Tony Woods to serve as the last line of defense in the post. And that’s not a problem the Ducks seem likely to fix the rest of the way.

“At this point right now, it’s either you have it or you don’t,” Moser said. “But we can collectively protect the rim by keeping guys out of the paint, or having early help so guys really don’t have a lot of shots at the rim.”

Moser hinted at subtle tweaks to Oregon’s defense going forward, but Altman said not to anticipate any major changes. Instead, the Ducks just want to do what they do, better – a lot better.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Dotson said. “But I feel like we’re taking a step every day.”

The Beavers will challenge Oregon’s deficiency in the post with a front line led by twin 6-foot-10 towers Angus Brandt and Eric Moreland, and 6-8 forward Devon Collier. Oregon State can also attack the rim with its guards, led by the Pac-12’s leading scorer, Roberto Nelson (21.4 ppg).

“He’s always been a threat,” Altman said. “Offensively he’s got a tremendous confidence in his game, and can get baskets in a lot of ways, too.”

Oregon can, as well, and the Ducks remain one of the best offensive teams in the country. But that didn’t matter much in the team’s three losses, making for an intense sets of practices prior to Oregon’s return to the court Sunday in Corvallis.

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