While there are already plenty of narratives to go around this week with the Civil War on Thursday night at Matthew Night Arena, players and fans will have to cram one more in for the ride: The return of Dominic Artis.
The freshman point guard – out with an injured foot since Oregon's game against Washington on January 26 – returned to practice yesterday for the Ducks and did some drills before practice with a heavy brace on his left leg.
"He's been doing some individual workouts," head coach Dana Altman said. "He did a little dry stuff [yesterday], we'll hopefully get him a little bit more involved today. Hopefully if things progress well, he'll get us a few minutes on Thursday night."
Altman didn't commit to Artis playing on Thursday night against the Beavers but said he would come off the bench, and agreed with the phrase "cautiously optimistic" when asked.
"Yeah, I think that's a good way to put it," Altman said. "We don't want any setbacks, so we'll take it really slow and we'll take it really slow Thursday night."
Regardless of Artis' availability this week and going forward (Altman said he and the staff would treat it as though Artis was on a "pitch count" Thursday), his return is sure to energize the team as they enter the final two weeks of the Pac-12 regular season with a chance to win their first conference title in over 10 years.
"If you look at the calendar, we've got this week, and then next week we're on the road for two, and then the conference tournament," Altman said. "I think in those three weeks, it gets all the way up to eight weeks that he's been out...if we can gradually bring him back this week and two games next week, I think by the conference tournament we're looking like he's pretty much back."
Thursday's game will also be the final home game for four Oregon seniors: Tony Woods, Carlos Emory, Arsalan Kazemi, and E.J. Singler. Singler is one of two remaining Ducks that have played both Mac and Matt Court (Jonathan Loyd being the other), and Altman spent a solid two minutes talking about the forward from Medford, Oregon.
"That's gonna hurt," Altman said on losing Singler. "He's been a big part of our program. The three years we've been together, like any coach and player we've had our ups and downs, but there have been a lot more ups than downs with E.J. I like his work ethic, I like how unselfish he is, he's all about the team, he's all about our school."
Altman also said that while he expects Singler and the three other seniors to be emotional Thursday, he expects they'll be able to keep it all in check during the game.
"I'm sure there will be a little bit more emotion for him, he's played a lot of games in this building and in an Oregon uniform," Altman said. "When any player realizes it's coming to an end there's always added emotion there, but he'll be alright. He'll come out and play, I'm not worried about it."
Altman also mentioned that Singler has not been fully healthy for the duration of the season, playing with pain in his knee that caused him to miss some early non-conference games.
"He's brought it every day, and he's fought through some severe tendinitis this year but never made any excuses about it," Altman said. He just fought through it and he's a competitive young man, and I really respect that."