Will it be the Ducks who took the Pac-12 by storm, subduing the elite of the conference and building a 7-0 record, a two-game lead in the loss column and the No. 10 spot in the national rankings? They were a sharp-shooting, tough-rebounding bunch who led the conference in scoring and field goal percentage and ranked second in rebounding margin in those seven games.
Or will it be the confused, timid group that Stanford blew out of Maples Pavilion Wednesday night. Those Ducks had trouble finding a decent shot against a swarming Cardinal defense that limited them to 34.6 per cent shooting and out-rebounded them 35-31 in the 76-52 rout. Oregon, which had survived despite being a tad careless with the ball until Wednesday, turned it over 20 times (leading to 21 Stanford points) and had just four assists, two in the game's final 38 minutes.
“We just got it handed to us,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said after the game. “There's no other way to put it. It's the first time we've fallen flat on our face this year.”
Until the Stanford game, Oregon, picked by the media to finish seventh in the conference, had been the talk of the league and was attracting national attention. The Ducks were 18-2 overall and had put the toughest part of the conference schedule behind them. They knocked off Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State and will not face those teams again until maybe the conference tournament.
Oregon's fast start might have surprised the media, but Cal coach Mike Montgomery said he could see the Ducks coming.
“I thought at the end of the season last year Oregon was really good,” Montgomery said. “If you look at their depth with (forward Carlos) Emory, the two seven-footers (Tony Woods and Waverly Austin); they've got a lot of guys. They had a lot of guys last year.
“(E.J.) Singler is good, he's just that much more of a leader. I think the real kicker for them is the transfer kid (Arsalan Kazemi), that they didn't expect. …You add a piece like that, it's pretty valuable. To get a guy who's coming in and is immediately eligible but is not a freshman, that's been huge for them.”
Kazemi is a the new breed of transfer, who can move from one school, in this case Rice, to another and because he has already graduated doesn't have to sit out a year but is eligible right away. The 6-7 native of Iran played three years at Rice and averaged a double-double (12.6 points and 10.1 rebounds) in 95 games. He is contributing 8.7 and 9.5 respectively at Oregon. “He's one of the best rebounders in the country,” Montgomery said.
He joined a team that included the players Montgomery mentioned and added a passel of top-notch recruits and was ready to roll.
“They've got some athletes,” Montgomery said. “They can jump and rebound the ball. They'll send three or four people to the glass, they'll go hard. And they've got great depth.”
But what they don't have, at least for awhile, is point guard Dominic Artis. The freshman from Oakland has missed the last two games with a foot injury and he is definitely out Saturday. They managed to take down Washington without him, but the Ducks struggled to get into any offensive rhythm against Stanford.
Montgomery thought the Ducks would be able to weather Artis' absence. “D.A.'s done a nice job running the club, he understands what they're trying to do,” Montgomery said early in the week. “He's a smart player, shoots it well. But (Johnathan) Lloyd has started for ‘em before. He's a veteran guard. It doesn't change much with him in there. They'll miss Dominic for sure. But I don't know much it will change in a one-game situation.”
Well it changed quite a bit. Oregon had not been a prolific three-point field goal team with him, but he had made 26, which still is the most of any Duck this year. His replacements Lloyd and Willie Moore were 0-for-5 from beyond the arc against Stanford. And then there were the turnovers.
The Ducks average 15.9 per game, most in the Pac-12. “It's been a problem all year,” Singler told the Eugene Register-Guard. Lloyd and Moore had nine turnovers between them against Washington. Lloyd was charged with only one against Stanford in 23 minutes, though Moore had four in the other 17 minutes, and eight other Ducks turned the ball over at least once. Altman said “lack of ball movement,” was a big factor in most of the turnovers.
The leading scorer is freshman Damyean Dotson who averages 11.5 points per game. But Singler, the senior who averages 11.0, is the main cog in the offense. Everything runs through him and Stanford pretty much shut him down. He didn't score until the second half and finished 2-of-9 from the field for six points, his lowest total against a Pac-12 opponent this season.
“Singler's always a threat, so we were keying in on him and trying to make sure he didn't get off, because he's a playmaker and a scorer for them,” Stanford's Dwight Powell said.
Cal will be well-advised to do the same.
- Oregon's No. 10 ranking, which is sure to go down next week, is its highest since the Ducks were also ranked tenth in March 2007.
- Singler has 1,344 points in his career, 15th on the school's all-time list. Next up is Luke Ridnour, who is 14th with 1,399.
- Oregon has held five teams to fewer than 50 points this year, most sub-50 defensive efforts by an Oregon team in 30 years.
- Kazemi's double-double against Washington was the 50th of his career.
- The Ducks returned to Eugene right after the Stanford game and are scheduled to come back the Bay Area Friday night. That way the players miss only one day of class time.