After battling top-ranked Baylor and refusing to quit in a losing effort last week, there was some hope that Oregon Men’s Basketball had rediscovered its competitive fire. Hosting the Pepperdine appeared to be a good opportunity for a tune-up win before taking a break for Christmastime and then beginning conference play.
However, it was the Waves that jumped out to the early lead and at some point Oregon fans had to be wondering if this team was ever going to find a way to congeal and pull out some victories.
Fortunately, Senior Will Richardson displayed the kind of leadership the Ducks have been lacking and took it upon himself to ensure that Oregon did not fall below .500, something that had not happened in over a decade and would have been the last thing Oregon needed with Pac 12 play looming.
Like Chris Duarte last year and Payton Pritchard the year before, Richardson took charge of a game that could have gone either way with 19 points and seven assists as the Ducks won 68-59 with a solid second half performance in which they never trailed.
Guard Jacob Young was also a force with 10 points and six rebounds but it was the inside play of true Freshman Nathan Bittle that really helped to flip the switch for Oregon, who outscored Pepperdine 44 to 26 in the paint.
Already with two imposing centers in N’Faly Dante and Franck Kepnang, Oregon seems to have a tower trio on their hands as the 5-star 7-footer stepped in for Dante in the second half after the former experienced knee discomfort. Bittle established himself down low with eight points, five rebounds, and four blocks.
Oregon’s size is something that it will need to take full advantage of to have a successful run at the NCAA Tournament, but perhaps even more important is the need for an undisputed team leader, a role players like Aaron Brooks, Joseph Young, and Pritchard all excelled at as seniors.
The Ducks are already behind the eight ball in conference play with an 0-2 record after falling to Arizona State and Stanford. In order to have a shot at the big dance by March, which is generally when Dana Altman teams are playing their best, Oregon needs to have a solidly winning record in Pac 12 play.
It will be an uphill battle, but nothing we haven’t seen Altman accomplish before.
The talent is there, it’s time for results.