Oregon’s Men’s and Women’s teams are about halfway through their Conference seasons and are having some similar problems. The biggest is inconsistency – either team can be awesome one night and just not very good the next. They have played very well against some of their toughest competition and had some of their worst games against teams they should beat. While it’s not always easy to draw hard and fast conclusions from outside a program, both teams are losing – or winning – games for seemingly some of the same reasons.
It’s probably fair to say that the Oregon Men’s basketball team has underperformed its talent level this season. Early-season injury problems have mostly resolved and the Ducks have been at full strength the last several weeks. Nevertheless, Oregon has failed to settle into any kind of consistency on the court. The Ducks have looked at times like world beaters, running then-#9 Arizona out of Matthew Knight Arena 87 – 68 and one week later unable to do much of anything right and losing at Stanford 71 – 64. It was just the Cardinal’s second Pac-12 victory.
In particular, the deciding factor for these games appears to be Oregon’s shooting touch. Against Arizona, Oregon’s shooting started out good and got better as the game wore on. The Ducks shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and 57 percent in the second half. Oregon’s 3-point shooting in this game also improved – from 31 percent in the first half to 37.5 percent in the second. In the Ducks offense, the results of good outside shooting go far beyond what shows up on the stats page or the scoreboard. Because Oregon shot well from outside, it opened up the key for N’Faly Dante who was 9 – 11 from the field and scored 22 points. Contrast this with the Stanford game, where the Cardinal was the team that came out smoking hot, shooting 66 percent from the field in the first half while Oregon shot just 46 percent. One might think that disparity would give Stanford control of the game, but Oregon trailed just 42 – 37 at halftime – certainly not a point spread to put any fear in a fan’s heart. Predictably with a team of Stanford’s quality, the Cardinal cooled off considerably as the game went on, shooting just under 36 percent from the floor – and just 2 – 11 from beyond the 3-point arc – and scoring only 29 points in the second half. Oregon couldn’t take advantage – the team’s shooting also fell off and the Ducks struggled to just 30 percent shooting from the field overall, 4 – 16 from beyond the arc and scoring just 27 points.
In the Stanford game, Oregon’s poor shooting allowed Stanford to collapse inside and basically take Dante out of the game – he scored just 9 points on 9 shots. Stanford did not feel like they had to respect Oregon’s shooters and were double- and even triple-teaming Dante inside, harassing him into 3 turnovers and just 4 – 9 shooting. Oregon’s woes were reflected in Will Richardson, Jr’s performance – he went just 2 – 9 from the field and scored 5 points in 35 minutes. He had just 2 assists. The Ducks need better, more consistent performances from their floor leader.
It’s hard to pin much blame on Oregon’s defense. Holding Arizona to 68 points and Stanford to 71 are good defensive scoring numbers. Generally speaking, the Ducks played good defense on Stanford’s 3-point shooters but the Cardinal were simply unconscious from distance in the first half, shooting 58 percent (7 – 12) despite having a hand in their face or a Duck leaping at them. This ended up as an “L” because Oregon shooters could not find the consistency necessary to win.
At best, the Men’s team is on a knife’s edge with regard to making an NCAA Tournament appearance in March and it’s certainly possible that, barring a miracle Pac-12 Championship Tournament performance, they’ve played themselves into the NIT. In Conference, Oregon’s in the middle of the pack at 5 – 4. They take the next steps into the future with a home series against Colorado and Utah next weekend. Pac-12 Men’s Standings.
Frankly, Oregon’s Women’s team has a similar problem on the offensive end. Although they’ve also run into their share of hot shooting opponents, the Duck defense has generally been very good. Oregon, though, has had more than its fair share of long scoring droughts, going 3, 4, or 5 minutes without scoring a point, and in some instances not even getting off a shot. It’s also hard to understand these kinds of performances given Oregon’s talent level. The Ducks have a number of players – Endyia Rogers, Te-Hina PaoPao, Grace VanSlooten, Ahlise Hurst, Taya Hanson – who can fill it up from anywhere on the court. In a way, the Women’s team is almost more reliant on outside shooting to open up the middle than the Men. At 6’8”, Duck Center Phillipina Kyei is almost always the tallest player on either team, but she is somewhat raw as an offensive player. This means that she is not as likely as Dante, for example, to be able to absorb a double-team and still score inside. To take full advantage of her inside presence, Oregon needs to be sure she can go one-on-one with what will likely be a defender shorter than she. To do that, the Ducks need to force opponents to respect and guard all their perimeter shooters.
Oregon has been able to overcome their long scoring droughts in many cases simply by playing excellent defense. There have been a number of games in which the Ducks may be unable to score, but at the same time they are preventing an opponent from scoring. This happened in last weekend’s Oregon State tilt. In the 2nd quarter, the score was 23 – 15 Oregon State for almost 2 minutes, then 23 – 17 for a minute, then 23 – 20 for almost 3 minutes. In the 3rd quarter, Oregon spent 2 minutes stuck on 32 points and the last 2:22 stuck on 40 points. These periods without scoring are usually accompanied by poor ball security. The Ducks took excellent care of the ball early in the season and enjoyed one of the lowest per-game turnover rates in the country. In the Pac-12 season, however, turnovers have become an issue in some of Oregon’s games. For example, the Ducks committed 20 turnovers – twice their season average at that time – in a loss to UCLA in late December.
Oregon is a streaky shooting team, and this, combined with the increased turnovers, is causing the long scoring droughts. The recent injury which has slowed Freshman phenom Grace VanSlooten certainly hasn’t helped – she was only 1 – 11 in the Oregon State game but has previously been among Oregon’s most consistent scorers. Meanwhile, Rogers and PaoPao were a combined 9 - 26 from the field and 2 - 10 from beyond the arc. Whether Oregon can find a consistent shooting touch is an open question. To the untrained eye, there’s no obvious problem with the shooters’ releases, positioning or body control – the Ducks don’t take a lot of “wild” shots.
The Women’s team appears to be in a similar position with regard to post-season play. The Ducks are just 4 – 4 in the Conference, running in 7th place at the moment. It’s less hard to imagine this team going on a run through their remaining games and putting themselves in position for at least an at-large bid. Getting their shooting in order will take the team a long way in that direction. Oregon travels for a set against the Bay Area schools next weekend, both of which look like winnable games. Pac-12 Women’s Standings.