Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
Looking a bit off their game after beating #4 Arizona on Thursday, the Ducks relied on spurts of stifling defense to move to 3-0 in Pac-12 play.
After Thursday's upset of fourth-ranked Arizona, Sunday's tilt against Herb Sendek's upstart Sun Devils had the look of a classic trap game, and while it seemed at times that the Ducks had missed the memo, they still emerged victorious on Sunday night, improving to 14-2 on the season.
"We were very fortunate on a night when nothing seemed to click," head coach Dana Altman said after the game. "Not sure if it was focus, intensity, but we never seemed to get a good rhythm going. We found a way to win, and in a 31 game schedule you're going to have a couple of those where you're just going to have to find a way."
Led by star freshman Jahii Carson, Arizona State jumped out to a 19-11 lead – buoyed by some sluggish Oregon defense – and looked set to out-run the Ducks. Carson – the early leader for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year – finished the game with 20 points and 7 rebounds
"Carson just kind of makes everything go, Altman said. "He's hard to guard with his quickness and plays with tremendous confidence...he's a good player and just stirs the drink for them and makes everyone around him a little bit better."
After their early surge, ASU didn't score a basket for nearly six minutes, allowing Oregon to climb back and take the lead. Freshman Damyean Dotson keyed the Ducks' run to their 32-28 halftime advantage, scoring 10 straight points over a stretch en route to a 12 points in the half.
The second half featured a multitude of sloppy plays and almost-turnovers by both teams, and at times the Ducks' offense devolved into on-ball screens and forced isolation attempts.
Indeed, the biggest bucket of the game was a dunk from senior Arsalan Kazemi after a frantic possession by Oregon in which the ball was nearly turned over multiple times. Neither team could find a rhythm on offense, something Altman attributed to the Sun Devil's style of play.
"Our ball movement, other than our very first possession, wasn't what I'd hoped it would be," Altman said.
Seniors Carlos Emory and Tony Woods had 14 points for Oregon along with Dotson, but it was their free throw shooting that preserved the win, as Kazemi, then Woods, then Emory all made two pressure-packed foul shots in the final minute.
The Ducks shot 15-16 from the line Sunday – the lone miss coming on E.J. Singler's second attempt with 5.1 seconds remaining – which served as redemption for the team's failure to close out the game at UTEP last month.
"I've been working on my free throws since that game," Woods said.
"Free throws after free throws in practice, just kind of stepped up there and hit the free throws we needed to win the game," added Emory.
The Ducks next take the court on Thursday night against a struggling USC team in Los Angeles before heading to Westwood for their only regular-season contest against the UCLA Bruins – a game which figures to involve two ranked teams.
Though the stakes continue to get higher, Oregon has now played – and won – three close conference games, experience that Woods thinks will serve them well on the road.
"It definitely helps, it builds all of our confidence, Woods said about the close games. "Even though we let (Arizona State) back in the game, we were able to hold them off."