What a frustrating game. A ten point lead at halftime, and absolutely no reason to lose this game. But in the second half we were outcoached--woefully.
This game was a mirror of the season. In no game have we failed to compete. We have had the athletes and the talent to win every game. UCLA, USC, WSU--we were right there in all those games, and faltered in the end. The same thing happened tonight. The problem isn't the players. The problem is the plan--or total lack thereof.
We shot a whopping 38 three pointers tonight. On 64 field goal attempts. Of those 38, we made 9. Taylor: 1-7. Leunen: 1-6. Porter: 4-13. That's a whole lot of missed shots. I'll put aside the question of why we shot 22 threes in the second half in spite of a double digit lead. But what's more frustrating is that there was no plan in place for when those threes stop falling. The only response that we had tonight was to shoot more threes. And its been that way all season. Why was Malik--a beast down low--not posting up other guards and small forwards all season? Why did Oregon continue to play the point all season when its clear that his strengths are at shooting guard coming off screens and spotting up? Why are we a freelance team with very few offensive sets? Why do we not have a competent center (no offense to Maarty--he's great. But how great would he be as a power forward with a center playing next to him?).
What makes teams like UCLA or Stanford so good is execution. They have a plan. They have sets to get them good shots at the end of games. If they're not shooting well, they stay in games because they play excellent defense and rebound well. If they are shooting well, then its lights out.
Our style is much like that of a pickup game. It can be very exciting, and you can score a bunch of points in a hurry. But, as we saw tonight, its excruciatingly painful when the shots aren't falling. They're all long shots which not only makes offensive rebounding more difficult--but often lead to fast breaks on the other end. We got manhandled on the interior--Charles Rhodes was amazing--but its also a product of bad defensive principles. We played haven't played great defense since Fred Litzenberger left. And, instead of putting out a lot of pressure defensively, we use a lot of zones and gimmicks. And instead of stepping up the pressure when our shots aren't falling, our defense actually gets a bit worse.
In spite of all that, we've been in almost every game this season. But, we've seen that our plan is inadequate. The only times we've been great down the stretch is when we've had dynamic individual playmakers who could single-handedly take over a game--Freddie Jones and Aaron Brooks. I guarantee you not every team has that. Stanford doesn't. WSU doesn't. But they have a plan, and are able to play excellent defense and get good shots by executing their sets down the stretch. We can't win without AB to take the game over.
I've been a big EK defender. And I don't see any way that he's not back next season. But, its also clear that unless he changes things, he is not going to take us to the next level. EK is a great recruiter. Now he needs to swallow his pride, shake up his coaching staff, and give his assistants some power. Get one who's a good strategist, and one who's a good big man coach. EK recruits and is the face of the program, these other guys get a lot of the gritty work done. See, Ernie, I've stood by you. I've defended you on the blog. I feel like we owe you a lot for taking us to levels we've never seen before. But learn, dammit, learn. Grow as a coach. Recognize your weaknesses. Its okay to have weaknesses--every coach does. But, instead of being stubborn, put people around you who can compliment you by making up for those shortcomings. Its not a bad thing to need help. In fact, it makes you a better coach.
For Maarty, Malik, Bryce, Mitch, and Ray, thank you. Two NCAA tournaments, an elite eight, and a Pac-10 tournament championship--few Oregon players can boast the accomplishments the you guys do. But you deserved better this year. How can we blame them for continuing to jack up threes--they weren't taught any better. Hopefully, a few of them can stick in the NBA. But I wish all of them the best of luck in life. They stuck around, graduated, and have represented our University with class.
We have a ton of talent next year, and there is a lot to look forward to. I dream of Javon Catron becoming a Robert Johnson type enforcer. I dream of Michael Dunigan becoming the best big man in the conference. I dream of TP returning to form as the best pure shooter in the country--playing his natural position off the ball. I dream of Kamyron Brown as an elite point guard. And LeKendric Longmire as a lock down defender. And of all that coming together into a versatile team that can beat you in so many ways--and if one's not working, they simply pound you with another.
All the talent is there. And you deserve the credit for bringing that talent in, Ernie. But this season--with three big time senior starters--was unacceptable. Make sure it doesn't happen again. Get the people in here who can help you. Its not a pride issue--in fact, you'll get tons of credit for it. Just look what scrapping the traditional offense and hiring a guy like Chip Kelly did for Bellotti. He went from on the hot seat to people being scared shitless that he was going to leave.
Your legacy is assured for taking the Ducks to this level. And we are all grateful for that. But, if you want to be the one to take the next step, get some help. After all, your job depends on it. There are rumors out that many boosters don't really care for you. Wouldn't it be great to shove it in everyone's face and take Oregon to that next level.
Otherwise, it may be Mark Few opening that new arena.