Oftentimes, you’ll see the euphoria of a big win come back to bite the same team the following game with a humbling loss. Other times, that team will use the momentum of that big victory to continue to show the world that they are indeed the real deal.
Oregon Men’s Basketball opted for the latter this weekend, and in doing so, sent a clear warning to the rest of the conference: we’ve figured things out. After all, this was the first time in 45 years a team had defeated two AP Top 5 teams back-to-back on the road during the same weekend.
It also wasn’t just the fact that Oregon beat the team that knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament last season on Saturday, it was the way they beat them.
Oregon led wire-to-wire and maintained a double digit lead for a vast majority of the game. The team knocked down outside shots all game, Will Richardson had his defenders on skates, big men N’Faly Dante and Franck Kepnang started to induce flashbacks of Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher with their shot-swatting.
The Ducks were locked-in defensively, they were fluid offensively. Every little spurt that the Trojans produced…Oregon had the answer.
Transfer guard De’Vion Harmon, who scored 16 points, credited a new sense of connection between the team for the turnaround. If this team really is beginning to connect, with the talent that they possess, it could be a big headache for the rest of the Pac-12.
Head coach Dana Altman has shown time and again that he is a wizard at bringing teams together as the season progresses and forming cohesiveness and unity between Freshmen, upperclassmen, and transfers. His teams historically peak the closer they get to March.
After starting the season 5-5 and 0-2 in conference, something has clicked for Oregon. We saw a glimpse of it when they hosted No.1 Baylor in December, as they had previously been humiliated by the ranked teams they’d faced. Following that closer-than-expected battle, there has been a different sense about the chemistry with which this team plays.
Players are buying in. They’re understanding each other’s games. The effort seems enhanced and the confusion and disorganization seems a lot more fleeting.
Granted, this is only mid-January and there is still a lot of season left and a very slim margin for error after their early-season struggles. But what Oregon did in L.A. was also not something to be taken lightly. These were two teams that made the Elite Eight and Final Four in last year’s tournament and two teams that are still loaded with star power.
The Ducks have had the talent all season. Their twin towers in the post are a physical, intimidating duo that are starting to figure out their footwork offensively. Transfers Harmon, Quincy Guerrier and Jacob Young are understanding how to play off of each other’s strengths and form a three-headed monster. Veterans Richardson and Eric Williams seem to have lost all hesitation and don’t look like they believe anyone can guard them one-on-one.
With the team recovered from their COVID week (which seems like it’s going to hit nearly everyone at some point this season) and no injury bugs rearing their ugly heads, this could easily be a team that runs roughshod through the rest of their conference games and into the Big Dance.
Obviously, that’s not a given at this point, but what we saw in Los Angeles these past two games gives fans a new feeling of excitement about this squad.