Just like a Las Vegas gambler, everything changed for No. 3 Oregon (29-5) in a matter of moments from Sin City. The Ducks revealed Chris Boucher would be lost for the season on Saturday. On Sunday, UO began preparing for the 2017 NCAA Tournament and No. 14 Iona (22-12).
“The guys were a little better today and I think by Friday we’ll be ready to play,” Dana Altman said on Sunday. “We have a lot of work to do from now until Friday.”
Friday night the Ducks were enjoying a semifinal win against Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament. The next morning, they were trying to digest the fate of their fallen teammate. Hours later, they had to turn their focus to a title game. The fact that this team only lost by three points, 83-80, to No. 7 Arizona is a testament to their character and determination.
“I just feel so bad for Chris,” Altman said sadly. “I just don’t know what to say. He’s probably our most popular player. He’s been a pleasure to coach the last two years. He was pretty shook up after the news. Our team has to move forward.”
How do the Ducks replace their injured star? The simple answer is you can’t replace him, but Kavell Bigby-Williams will snatch his new opportunity like a rebound on the glass.
“This is my shot to show what I can do and help my team," said Bigby-Williams.
The Duck offseason was highlighted by the signing of the Spalding National Junior College Player of the Year. KBW averaged 16.8 PPG, 13.6 RPG and an outstanding 5.9 blocks per game for Gillette College in Wyoming. Many compare him to Boucher with the JuCo background. Yet, he reminds me more of Jordan Bell.
CB and KBW were both NJCAA Player’s of the Year while playing in the state of Wyoming. Bigby-Williams is actually an inch taller than CB at 6-foot, 11-inches. Yet, he doesn’t have the same range from the floor as Boucher. Don’t be fooled, KBW can still step out to 15 feet and bury a jumper. He has done it this season.
"I'm just trying to be as efficient as possible when I am out there," said Bigby-Williams. “Try to give energy and do as much as I can."
The London native secured six rebounds, three points and two blocked shots during his 14 minutes against Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship. He has become more comfortable on the floor, and thus his activity has increased. His movement without the ball is phenomenal at times.
"I thought Kavell gave us great minutes,” Altman said in reference to the Arizona game.
Every player that enters the lane must be aware of his presence. No. 35 is a shot-blocker and just as important, a shot-alterer. He will be the x-factor for Oregon during their tournament run.
“We've got the best shot blockers in the country,” Payton Pritchard said.
KBW will produce during his time on the floor. But, his minutes will be determined by performance and the interior size of UO’s opponents.
You have to understand, Oregon entered the Wildcat game without a “new” game plan. They learned of the awful news and then went out and played the same day. Players hadn't practiced together without Boucher on the floor with them. It’s a new team now, and to gain rhythm, they must practice with each other.
“Missing that guy (Boucher), we have to change some things about our defense,” said Altman.
Do you know how many back screens opened up when KBW slid to the basket unnoticed by Arizona on Saturday? If it was Boucher, those are being finished for easy lobs and dunks. But, players don’t know where Bigby-Williams will be at times or they may have missed him in the lane. It happens when a new player is added to the mix late in a season.
The Oregon players need to trust that he will be on the other end of their passes. There is not enough film of Bigby-Williams for coaches to prepare for him, which is perfect for being the x-factor. Nobody is going to worry about the big man when Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, Tyler Dorsey, Dylan Ennis and Pritchard are roaming the floor.
Kavell was preparing himself for a gigantic senior season in 2017-18. He will simply have to speed up those plans a bit, but he is ready for the challenge.
“I look forward to March Madness. I am in my groove,” Bigby-Williams stated calmly. “I am adjusting to the speed and playing more physical. Hopefully, I will bring that into next season too and that will be my year."
Boucher did everything on the basketball court. From the Pac-12’s No. 1 shot blocker to a deadly threat from 3-point territory. Not to mention, his leadership and experience covered everything in between. You don’t replace that. But, Altman must find a “replacement” and KBW is his best option.
He may not be as skilled, but he’s a different kind of beast. He will provide rim protection, grit and some easy buckets. The Pac-12 better watch out for him in 2017-18. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Sean Miller. For now, Iona is the focus of Oregon.
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