Somehow, despite all the adversity, Oregon sits at 10-3 and 2-0 in conference to wrap up 2023.
In a gritty, defensive battle, the Ducks were able to hold off the UCLA Bruins 64-59 at Matthew Knight Arena on Saturday behind 20 points from Freshman Jackson Shelstad.
The game was tight in the first half, with both teams trading the lead but Oregon appearing to maintain the upper hand. The Ducks were up 33-31 at halftime.
In the second half, the Bruins began to take advantage of their size (Oregon is still missing twin towers N’Faly Dante and Nate Bittle) and regained the lead.
Then Shelstad caught fire.
The West Linn product drained three consecutive shots from beyond the arc as the Ducks went on a 14-2 run that brought the home crowd to a fever pitch.
UCLA, however, would not fold, and they trimmed the lead down to two in the waning minutes. But Shelstad drilled another 3-pointer from somewhere in Springfield and a steal-and-score by Jermaine Cousinard, who tallied 15 points, gave the Ducks the cushion they needed to hang on for the win.
Neither team shot particularly well from the field, with the Bruins hitting 43 percent of their shots and Oregon hitting 41 percent. The difference was the three-point shooting, with Oregon nailing 40 percent and UCLA struggling at only 16 percent.
Until Oregon gets their star center back (which may be happening in the next few weeks), they will probably have to live and die by the 3-ball. Freshman Kwame Evans Jr, however, continues to show improvement and will be a solid sidekick to Dante in the post.
Freshman Mookie Cook will likely be debuting in January as well, and if the way Shelstad has been playing is any indication (Saturday was his second consecutive 20-point game), Oregon should be primed for a big run heading into February, which has traditionally beeen the month in which Altman-led teams catch fire.
Oregon faces the hated Huskies on Thursday at 6pm in Seattle.