It’s a well-known fact in pretty much any sport: talent can only take you so far.
Any given team can look like a contender on paper and perform like a pretender on game day.
The best way to overcome that hurdle is to have a coach that knows how to maximize the potential of their players, and get them to understand and buy into their philosophy.
Make no mistake, Dana Altman is that coach.
So many times before, Altman has turned ragtag groups at Oregon into red-hot teams that have made NCAA Tournament runs they seemingly had no business making.
But sometimes, even a coach like that can’t fix a problem that begins and ends with the mindset and attitude of the players.
Washington defeated Oregon 78-67 on Thursday night in Seattle.
The score doesn’t tell the tale of what a disaster this game really was though.
A close game was blown open by a 19-6 run by the Huskies in the first half which gave them a double-digit lead at halftime.
Then, UW scored 13 of the first 15 points of the second half to go up by 21. They stayed in control from there and even though Oregon chipped away at the lead, they never really had a prayer, primarily because their defense was being torn apart.
Terrell Brown Jr. scored 25 points for the Huskies. Emmit Matthews Jr. also put up 25. Nate Roberts added a career-best 18 points before fouling out.
All this after the Ducks battled the No.3 team in the nation to a stand-still on their own court, upset the No.12 team, and were a bad bounce away from upending the No.16 team.
That is why even Altman’s brilliance can’t save this particular Oregon squad. The Ducks have, all year, played to the level of their competition. They fail to take every game seriously. They pick and choose which teams seem to deserve their best effort, and for the rest they just show up and put in some cardio for the day.
Altman is a great leader, but there has to be one in the game as well.
Two years ago Peyton Prichard held that mantle for Oregon. Last year it was Chris Duarte. Upperclassmen leadership extends back further than just those two as well. Players like Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, EJ Singler, Jovan Catron, Tijaun Porter, and Aaron Brooks all began with Oregon as Freshmen and used that experience to become reliable veterans by the time they were Juniors and Seniors.
If there was a shot that needed to be made, they took it. If there was a tough defensive assignment, they wanted it. If a rallying speech needed to be made, they piped up.
Will Richardson, for all of his talent and ability, is simply not that guy.
Richardson can be a red-hot scorer at times. He is a great on-ball defender. He experienced first hand in his Freshman season how the right attitude and focus can lead to a big run in the NCAA Tournament.
But he’s just not “the guy”. Now in his Senior season, and when everything has been on the line, he’s put up consecutive goose eggs in the scoring column.
That leaves the door open for someone else to take charge. And though Jacob Young, De’Vion Harmon and Quincy Guerrier all play well and produce for the Ducks, not one of them has decided to be the head honcho.
I expect the Ducks are headed for the NIT. Not sure if they’ll actually do anything in it. They may decide the NIT isn’t worth their best effort and get bounced by some small college that nobody knows what state it’s in.
Yes, Oregon could win the Pac-12 Tournament and grab an automatic bid. But suppose they face a team at or below .500 in the first round. Could you not easily see them just deciding that team isn’t on their level and getting outhustled and outmuscled in another embarrassing loss?
Coaches are always at the forefront of criticism when teams underperform, and I’m sure there are things Altman isn’t correcting well enough or points he isn’t driving home.
But really, this season and the way it has gone is on the players. Let’s keep our faith in Dana and know that what he’s done so many times before, he will do again.
Even if it’s not this season.
He deserves that much.